With a large percentage of the American workforce still working from home, COVID-19 continues to disrupt people’s day-to-day lives, not only creating pandemic-related stress but also impacting daily routines. Now, over a year into the pandemic, a new survey looked at how the disruption changed people’s sleep patterns and even what they dream about.
Commissioned by 23andMe, a consumer genetics and research company, the survey found a quarter of respondents (25%) are struggling to fall asleep as easily as they did before the pandemic, and nearly a quarter (24%) are going to bed later because they do not feel as tired.
Moreover, once asleep, individuals are finding that they are waking up more in the night than they did pre-pandemic (24%), and they are also feeling more restless through the night (19%). While asleep, 11% say they have had dreams specific to COVID-19 and 14% have had dreams about what life will be like once the pandemic is over.
“The survey offers another proof point into how the pandemic is impacting people’s day-to-day health patterns and routines,” says Eric Rasmussen, Head of Consumer Insights at 23andMe, in a release. “What we don’t know yet, but something 23andMe scientists would like to know, is how much of an impact these disruptions might have on people’s long-term health.”
Over half of the participants surveyed (55%) were either furloughed or laid off, or working from home. A majority of this group reports waking up later than they did before the pandemic, 60% and 64%, respectively. This could be attributed to a disruption in daily routine, and added stress from job loss, or the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Sleep and stress each play a role in overall health. 23andMe scientists and their collaborators have looked at several components of sleep, including wake times, sleep apnea, and REM sleep. 23andMe also offers its customers, throughout its services, various reports on obstructive sleep apnea, sleep movement, deep sleep, and more. Each of these different sleep related issues could affect sleep patterns and contribute to restlessness.
Over the last year, 23andMe research biostatistician, Teresa Filshtein Sonmez, PhD, has looked at data on activity levels and sleep among more than 130,000 consented 23andMe research participants. The sleep data is challenging to understand because our data come from smart devices rather than sleep trackers. Specifically, we know when a device becomes inactive at night, how long each device has been inactive at night, and when a device first becomes active the next morning. Device inactivity is not a direct measure of sleep but can be used to detect substantial changes in our customers’ behavior. By measuring smartphone activity and inactivity, Sonmez can gauge changes in when research participants will sleep, wake up, and how long they were asleep.
According to the sleep data, people began sleeping more and waking up later immediately after the first shelter-in-place orders went into effect in March of 2020. In the beginning, people slept a lot more, 1.5 hours more each night, according to the data. While this wasn’t a measure of sleep quality, it does show a significant change in sleep patterns due to the pandemic. That new pattern has also changed, however. Over the course of 2020, people adjusted to new schedules, and their sleep patterns are slowly creeping back toward pre-pandemic levels.
The data from 23andMe’s sleep survey, together with data from 23andMe’s internal research, shows how the pandemic has transformed lives. The larger question about how this may or may not impact overall health still needs to be studied. And these insights come as another disruption looms on the horizon, with many workers going back into the office or their children going back to school.
This online survey was designed by 23andMe and conducted through Alchemer (formerly SurveyGizmo) on March 18, 2021, among a national sample of 1,002 adults ages 18 and up.