How 2020 Impacted Our Sleep

December 18, 2020 Sleep Tips - Blogs Sara O'Keefe
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Data from around the world is showing us that, with their lives having been thrown upside-down in so many ways due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are now struggling to get the sleep they need to stay healthy.

Here’s a breakdown of how researchers and experts are saying the pandemic has affected our sleep, along with some tips on how to sleep well even in this new normal.

Quick numbers

  • A survey conducted in China back in February of this year found what researchers called “clinically significant” levels of insomnia and stress. 20% of respondents reported struggling with insomnia, with more severe symptoms reported in those who were working in the healthcare field on the frontlines.

  • Pharmaceutical company Express Scripts found a 15% increase in prescriptions for sleep medications from mid-February to mid-March in the U.S., right as the coronavirus began to spread in alarming numbers.

  • The sleep tracking app Sleep Cycle surveyed over 69,000 users this past June and found that 37% said it was now taking them longer to fall asleep.

So what’s the connection?

While it may be no surprise that the pandemic has been keeping a lot of folks up at night, it is important that we connect the dots and find out exactly what conditions in this specific pandemic are disrupting our bodies’ normal sleep behaviors, in order to figure out how to adapt. Thankfully, experts in the fields of sleep and mental health have been studying just that:

  • In a recent survey of 2,000 U.S. adults, 68% reported that their sleep habits have become increasingly inconsistent. The main culprit? The switch to remote work: 44% of respondents said they were staying up later at night now, using the excuse that they won’t have to wake up early in order to commute to work. But (unsurprising to most of us remote workers) almost half of the respondents said they were taking advantage of the lack of a commute by getting out of bed only 10 minutes before the start of their work day. 

  • While we’re on the subject of this huge shift in our sleep schedules: another factor that may be responsible for lower sleep quality across the board is the disruption of our circadian rhythms (your body’s way of determining what functions it performs throughout the day) caused by the new stay-at-home lifestyle we’ve all adapted to. Your body relies on outside signals like sunlight and even certain activities you do throughout the day (such as going to work or the gym) in order to determine when to get your body ready for sleep. Now that we have a far different schedule (or none at all), our body’s schedule is also out of whack, and that can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

  • Another common theme reported by those whose sleep has worsened: stress. Increased stress has become a widespread issue—the American Psychological Association reports that 67% of American adults state that they’ve had increased stress over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. And we probably don’t have to tell you that stress is bad for sleep—it keeps our minds spinning and our bodies tense.

Tips for pandemic-proofing your sleep

  • Create a new routine

    • Try to get up and head to bed at around the same time every day—this will help your sleep schedule stay on track.

    • Build your day around certain activities (like you did in the before-times). A walk in the morning is a great idea, as sunshine also helps to keep your body’s schedule in tune with your days. Take a break for lunch, and do something you enjoy after work to give your mind a break. 

  • Work on managing stress

    • Make mental deceleration part of your nighttime routine. Choose a calm, low-tech activity to do before bed. Journaling or making to-do lists for the next day are great ways to decompress. Oh, and stay away from the news, at least before bed.

  • Practice sleep hygiene

    • Take a break from screens an hour before bed. If possible, keep your bed set apart as a sleeping space, not a workspace. Along with that, if you find yourself tossing and turning when you lay down, head into a different room, and return when you actually feel sleepy. And though it may be easier said than done, avoid afternoon coffees and nightcaps—they will do your sleep no good.

Desperate times call for better habits

While we know that struggling with insomnia can feel like being caught in a vicious cycle of alertness and drowsiness at all the wrong times, we encourage you to take comfort in the fact that good sleep is self-perpetuating too! The more you practice good habits, the better your sleep will get—and the better your sleep gets, the more energy you’ll have to keep to these good habits, and the easier it’ll be to sleep well, no matter what life throws your way.