While the world went into lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people experienced lower sleep quality due to higher stress and anxiety levels. A new study from Washington State University used twins to find the outcome of stress and anxiety on sleep during the first few weeks of the pandemic.
For the study, researchers surveyed more than 900 twins after COVID-19 lockdowns began between March 26 and April 5, 2020. The participants were from the Washington State Twin Registry and were required to answer questionnaires about sleep patterns, depression, and anxiety.
Researchers were particularly interested in studying twins to investigate if the associating between depression and sleep problems is mediated by genetic factors, shared environment, or both.
The pandemic also provided researchers with an extra opportunity to get information on how a stressful situation affects sleep and quality among people in the community.
The twin survey showed that after the COVID-19 lockdown measures began, about half of the respondents reported no change in their sleep patterns, but 32.9% reported decreased sleep. Another 29.8% reported sleeping more.
In the study conclusion, it was found that any change in sleep was connected to self-reported mental health issues. However, it was more strongly associated with decreased sleep.
Siny Tsang, the lead author, said “Even if your cell phone says you consistently sleep eight hours every day, you may feel that you slept less or slept poorly, and that may be linked to stressful or anxious feelings. It may not matter whether or not the actual number has changed. It’s how you are feeling that is associated with your mental health.”
This study supports previous research that has found a relationship between disrupted sleep patterns and poor mental health. So, when people have a hard time sleeping, they are more likely to feel anxiety, stress, and depression. And when they are dealing with these symptoms, they are less likely to get a good night’s sleep. This creates a two-way relationship.
Researchers also conducted twin studies to find the COVID-19 lockdown effects on alcohol use, pandemic stress, and exercise. As initial studies, they are at the early stages, and results are still being analyzed. However, researchers have said that they are starting to see a common theme.
“A pattern that is consistent across these three studies is that people who reported change in physical exercise, alcohol use, or sleep are more stressed, anxious, and depressed than those who had said that they have had no change,” Tsang said.