The findings of a study on hundreds of twins led by Washington State University (WSU) researchers suggest that stress, anxiety, and depression during the first few weeks of the pandemic were linked with less and lower quality sleep.
The study was published in the leading journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. Nearly half of the respondents in a survey of more than 900 twins, done immediately after COVID-19 lockdown measures began reported no change in their sleep patterns, whereas about a third, 32.9 percent, reported decreased sleep.
Another 29.8 percent said they were sleeping more. In the analysis, the researchers found that any change in sleep was linked to self-reported mental health difficulties, though it was more strongly associated with decreased sleep.
Ms. Siny Tsang, lead author of the study said that “the results show that deviations from your typical sleep behavior may be associated with depression, anxiety, and stress.”
Ms. Tsang stressed that this showed a link, not a cause, but it does back up prior studies that found a two-way interaction between sleep disruption and poor mental health.
In other words, those people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to feel stress, worry, and depression, and when they are dealing with those same problems, they are more likely to sleep less and sometimes more than the typical six to nine hours a night.
This study analyzes survey responses collected between March 26 and April 5, 2020, from participants in the Washington State Twin Registry.
The pandemic also provided a chance for a natural experiment to see how a stressful situation affects sleep quantity and quality among the community, Ms. Tsang added.
The research depends on the self-reported perception of sleep length and quality, but the researcher stated that when it comes to mental health, perception can matter more than the real amount of sleep.
Ms. Tsang pointed out that “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.”