Stay-at-home orders have taken a toll on many facets of physical and mental health in recent months. But according to new research by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Washington, one silver lining exists: Some of us are sleeping better.
In a study published June 10 in Current Biology, the team reports that a group of students at CU Boulder generally got more sleep after widespread stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines were put into place in mid-March.
“Even though we are living through this incredibly stressful time, which is changing our behaviors drastically, we are seeing changes to sleep behaviors that are for the most part positive,” lead author Ken Wright, a professor of integrative physiology at CU Boulder and director of the university’s Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory, said in a statement.
The study compared sleep data on CU Boulder students before and after shelter-in-place guidelines were enacted. Wright had already collected sleep data from 139 CU Boulder students for a week from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4 as part of a class project. On March 16, CU Boulder switched to online instruction, and Wright saw an opportunity.
He repeated the week-long survey in the same students from April 22 to 29, and partnered with two sleep researchers at the UW to analyze the data: Horacio de la Iglesia, a professor of biology, and postdoctoral researcher Leandro Casiraghi, who are co-authors on the paper.
The team found that, on average, the students were devoting 30 more minutes per weekday and 24 more minutes per weekend to sleep. Those students who had been skimping on sleep the most before the pandemic saw the greatest improvements, with some sleeping as much as two additional hours each night.
The students also kept more regular sleep and wake times and experienced less “social jetlag,” which is that groggy feeling that occurs when people stay up late and sleep later on the weekends and must resume an earlier schedule on Monday.