Pandemic stress, anxiety linked to poor sleep, WSU study finds

SPOKANE, Wash.— Washington State University researchers found that many people’s stress in the early days of the pandemic was associated with poor sleep.

In a survey of 900 twins after lockdown started, almost one-third of the participants noted that their sleep decreased, and almost 30% of participants slept more. Researchers found that this change of sleep was associated with self-reported mental health problems, being strongly associated with decreased sleep.

“The results show that deviations from your typical sleep behavior may be associated with depression, anxiety and stress,” said Siny Tsang, lead author on the study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Tsang says those who don’t have a good night’s sleep are likely to feel more stressed, anxious and depressed, and in turn, are more likely to see deviation between the normal 6-9 hours of sleep.

Studies were collected from March 26 and April 5, 2020 by participants in the Washington State Twin Registry. Researchers were interested in studying twins to see if the causes were due to genetics, a shared environment or both. The pandemic also served as a natural experiment.

Self-reported perceptions of total sleep quality is what the research relies on. Tsang said that when researching mental health in this scenario, perception matters more than sleep.

“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,” Tsang said. “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.”