How Sleep Habits Changed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Goodpath Employer Health Index (GEHI)
2021-06-24

As with any major disruption in our lives, sleep patterns are often affected. This has been especially true of the sleep patterns that have emerged as a result of the pandemic. 

While research on the full physical and emotional consequences of the pandemic is ongoing, it is clear that sleep problems worsened in 2020 in the U.S. and worldwide.

Poor Quality Sleep and Increased Anxiety

An increase in the incidence of poor quality sleep started early in the pandemic. One of the first surveys of sleep and mental health conducted in 2020 showed that 18% of respondents reported poor sleep quality. Depressive symptoms arose in 20% of those surveyed and 35% reported generalized anxiety disorder

These findings were consistent across other studies. In a multi-continental study conducted from March to April 2020, 40% reported reduced sleep quality. The group that was more severely impacted included those in quarantine, women and workers whose livelihoods were impacted by the pandemic

A study of sleep patterns in Italy found 57% of participants reported pandemic-related anxiety as the cause of lost sleep. Looking more closely at the levels of anxiety, “32% reported high anxiety, 42% high distress, and 8% reported PTSD symptomatology linked to COVID-19”.

Changes in Sleep Pattern with the COVID-19 Pandemic

The length of time sleeping also changed with the pandemic, though with many variations. While some people were sleeping less, some were sleeping more. Others had either difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. 

In a UK-based study, more than 2 out of 3 people (69%) reported a change in sleep patterns. However, people alternated how their sleep had changed: 35% slept less than before the pandemic and 31% slept more. Other variations included disrupted sleep (42%), falling asleep unintentionally (35%), and difficulty falling or staying asleep (31%). 

Coronasomnia

The prevalence of insomnia as a reaction to COVID-19 has given rise to the term “coronasomnia”, which is how some doctors and media describe the increase in insomnia and other sleep disorders since February 2020 when the pandemic accelerated. 

While coronasomnia is triggered by elements unique to this pandemic, the symptoms of it are much like that of traditional insomnia. Two main symptoms of coronasomnia are difficulty falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep. 

Goodpath sleep expert, Dr. Ioannis Koutsourelakis, says “‘coronasomnia’ is a simple way for people to describe a broad spectrum of sleep disorders arising from the pandemic. The term is distinct; the experience is not. It will take months and years following this pandemic to determine the full scope of the effects of coronasomnia on the global populace.”

Helping Employees Deal with Pandemic Sleep Issues

As the pandemic has changed sleep habits, employees have had trouble finding effective solutions to help with sleep. This in turn may affect employees’ concentration and productivity. 

This situation presents an opportunity for employers to assist employees. As employers navigate plans for  pandemic-related work policies, adding in sleep support can be a natural way to communicate care for employees. 

Choosing the right sleep support for employees is important. Our Employer Sleep Action Plan details concrete steps employers can take to effectively support healthy sleep habits. 

This article is part of our larger series on sleep and its role in employee health. Continue here for statistics and details on the high workplace cost of poor employee sleep

For more information on sleep and its relationship to employee health and workplace productivity, access the full Sleep & Its Role In Employee Health report here