How the Pandemic Has Affected Sleep Habits, According to One Survey

published Feb 20, 2021
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If you’ve dealt with sleep disturbances during the course of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone, fellow night owl. The National Library of Medicine examined the acute effects of the pandemic on insomnia and other psychological symptoms in a report published last June, citing the correlation between stressful world events and mental and physical health. Amid an unprecedented year that altered how we live, work, and learn, it’s no surprise that our sleep trends have changed, too. As such, Casper commissioned a national survey to determine just how the ongoing pandemic has impacted Americans’ sleep habits. 

Casper’s key findings offer insights on how Americans are falling asleep, staying asleep, and dreaming, among other data. According to the survey, more than half of Americans (52.6%) have been going to bed at later or more inconsistent times since March 2020. While many respondents reported later bedtimes, however, most are still falling asleep organically: 76.5% of respondents said they do not lean on sleep technology (such as white noise machines or sleep apps) to fall asleep, while only 1 in 3 respondents (more specifically, 30.3%) said they turned to sleep supplements to fall asleep. 

Moreover, respondents cited an increase in scary, stressful dreams; 72.2% of respondents who reported these dreams said they could recall vivid details of the dreams. According to Dr. Michael Grandner, director of the University of Arizona’s Sleep and Health Research Program and sleep advisor at Casper, these vivid dreams could be attributed to the psychological symptoms previously chronicled by the National Library of Medicine.

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“When our lives go through stress or change, we often incorporate them into our dreams,” Dr. Grandner says. “Dreams are our way of learning, responding to the environment, and processing what is going on during the day, and the pandemic has been universal—it impacts us all.” 

In terms of why these particularly vivid dreams might be occurring, Dr. Grandner suggests that it all boils down to our REM cycles and the reported later bedtimes. “The most vivid dreams happen during the longest REM sleep episodes, which occur at the later part of the night,” Dr. Grandner explains. “We are on average sleeping in a little later, [so this could be] allowing for more of those REM episodes and the dreams that come with them.” 

So, how should we maintain a consistent bedtime during such stressful times? Dr. Grandner suggests detaching your mind and body from the day. “I would suggest setting an alert for about an hour before you want to go to bed—to let you know to start winding down and disconnecting from the distractions that keep our minds engaged,” he says. “By deliberately giving ourselves a buffer zone, we can give ourselves plenty of time to finish up while also giving ourselves the breathing room and distance needed to be able to get to sleep.”