Many studies suggest that our modern lifestyle, with constant pressure to stay busy and active, is the primary cause of sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality.
In a new study led by the University of Basel, researchers investigated the effects of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic on sleep quality. The experts found that slowing down our busy schedules can lead to more sleep, but it’s not necessarily better sleep.
“In modern societies, human rest-activity rhythms and sleep result from the tensions and dynamics between the conflicting poles of external social time and an individual’s internal biological time,” wrote the study authors.
The discrepancy between the body’s circadian rhythm and the timing of work and social activities causes “social jetlag.” This jetlag is induced by the different sleep schedules we keep on work days versus free days.
“Social jetlag and sleep restrictions have repeatedly been associated with negative consequences on health, mental wellbeing, and performance,” noted the researchers.
Led by psychologist Dr. Christine Blume, the team surveyed 435 people in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany over the course of six weeks in March and April 2020 during strict COVID-19 lockdowns. At this time, more than 85 percent of the respondents were working from home.
The survey found that fewer social constraints, including more flexible working hours, led to a reduction in social jetlag. “This suggests that the sleep-wake patterns of those surveyed were guided by internal biological signals rather than social rhythms,” said Dr. Blume.
In addition, 75 percent of the participants reported sleeping almost an extra hour. Despite longer sleep duration and less social jetlag, however, respondents said that their sleep quality deteriorated during the lockdown.
This is not very surprising, explained Dr. Blume, as this unprecedented situation also was highly burdening in many ways. Some of the most common issues affecting sleep quality were financial and health concerns and stress related to child care.
According to the study authors, potential strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of poor sleep quality include exposure to natural daylight and physical activity.
The study is published in the journal Current Biology.