After a year of COVID-19 lockdowns many of us still suffer from poor quality sleep. Here's what you need to know about how it can impact your team and what you can do to help.
It recently passed a year to the day since lockdown began in the UK.
As you probably already know, despite so much time spent at home neither our sleep quality, nor the quantity of hours have improved during this time.
Research has revealed the impact of sleeplessness has become especially prominent for healthcare workers, women and people of black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME).
Put simply, more of us are being affected by sleeplessness and insomnia – and the long-term effects on our mental health are starting to surface.
Below we share some tips on how to improve your quality of sleep and better support your team.
But first let’s look at the impact poor quality sleep can have on our lives.
The Sleep Council UK has found 40% of people (in the UK) suffer with sleep issues. And the effects are costly.
Compounding this statistic is the £40.2 billion cost of sleep deprivation to the UK economy.
NHS inform defines insomnia as “difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep long enough to feel refreshed the next morning.”
People can experience insomnia in different ways, including short-term and chronic insomnia.
A few of the common causes include:
With these in mind, it doesn’t come as a surprise that sleeplessness has become so widespread in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.
We naturally sleep lighter when we are experiencing anxiety and over the last year, millions of people have experienced uncertainties relating to work, finances, health, changes to routine and significantly reduced social contact.
If our brains sense a threat to our survival, it can produce a heightened physical stress response – increasing our levels of adrenaline, cortisol and heart rate.
All of which don’t help our sleep and can affect our mental health.
A global study conducted by the University of Ottawa found increased prevalence of psychological stress in populations affected by COVID-19.
Released in December 2020, it was found healthcare workers had reported significant increases in levels of insomnia and chronic mental health struggles.
Usually the impact of shift work can be enough to disturb a healthcare worker’s circadian rhythm, however compounding factors such as COVID-19, high levels of stress and high risk levels of exposure to the virus have contributed to these increases in sleeplessness.
These increases come as no surprise, given healthcare workers have worked longer and harder in high-risk conditions across the country, and the world.
The research found:
The rates of these symptoms and disorders were three to five times higher than the rates reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
These findings – which will be used to develop better mental health programs – are early indicators of the severe/ongoing mental health problems healthcare workers may develop as the pandemic ends, or with the alleviation of lockdown restrictions.
While the rate of worry-induced sleep loss has risen 9% nationally (women and men), there have been dramatic spikes in some groups of people experiencing sleeplessness.
The University of Southampton discovered the number of men experiencing poor sleep rose from approximately 11% to 16.5%, the effect on mothers was much more pronounced.
Mothers of young children experiencing sleeplessness effectively doubled – going from 18% to 31%.
For women who had children aged 0-4, the rate rose dramatically from 19.5% to 40%. Similarly, the increase was 21.7% to 38% for those with children in the 5-18-year-old range.
Sleep issues also had a striking impact in vulnerable groups such as the black, Asian and minority ethnic community.
These communities experienced an 11.3% increase in sleep issues, going from 20.7% to 32%.
Vulnerable minority groups most likely experienced higher rates of anxiety from COVID-19 lockdowns due to higher rates of infection among those populations.
Also, minority and ethnic communities were more susceptible to economic difficulties like job loss, feelings of isolation and working to support multiple children or dependents.