Study links bad sleep patterns to poor mental health during the pandemic

The study looked at adults both before and during the pandemic.

A study from researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital draws a link between sleep patterns and mental health during the pandemic. (Adobe Stock)

A new study out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital links bad sleep patterns to negative mental health symptoms.

The study, which was published in Sleep Health, evaluated adults and their sleep patterns before the pandemic and in June 2020.

It found that a lack of sleep and inconsistent sleep timing are associated with negative mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and substance use.

“Our study speaks to the importance of sleep for mental health, especially in the context of stressful episodes,” corresponding author Mark Czeisler, of the Department of Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s said in a news release.


“Making an effort to prioritize sleep and develop a regular sleep schedule can offer protection during these times.”


Czeisler and his colleagues developed the COVID-19 Outbreak Public Evaluation (COPE) Initiative to survey adults about their attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs about COVID-19 mitigation efforts and to assess mental and behavioral health during the pandemic for the study.

The team also used data from active users of a wearable health tracker made by Boston-based company WHOOP.

The study found that in June 2020, most participants slept for longer and timed their sleep more consistently than before the pandemic. On average, participants got 15 more minutes of sleep each night.

The study found that though participants went to bed later than before the pandemic, they still slept for longer periods.

But not all participants had better sleep during the pandemic, the study found. Some participants experienced the opposite effects.

When it comes to mental health, about 20% experienced anxiety or depression symptoms, about 30% experienced burnout, and about 20% reported an increase in substance use to cope with stress.

Ultimately, the study found that participants who slept less than six hours a night pre- and/or mid-pandemic, as well as those who slept at inconsistent times, were more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and burnout symptoms.


“In addition to sleep during the pandemic, people’s sleep patterns before the start of the pandemic were associated with their odds of mental health symptoms during the pandemic,” Czeisler said in the release.

“We don’t know the direction of this relationship — the degree to which mental health influences sleep, sleep influences mental health, or both — but we do see evidence of the important role of sleep during the pandemic, especially as we look for modifiable risk factors that could help improve mental health.”

Notably, 71% of WHOOP device users who participated in the study were men, and 77% were non-Hispanic white. Thus, the team said, its findings may not be generally applicable to the wider population.


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