As the worldwide spread of COVID-19 continues, stress, fear, and anxiety are also on the rise. Thanks to nonstop news coverage and social media speculation, coronavirus concerns can feel constant and overwhelming. Unlike anything before it, the pandemic has disrupted our daily routines, reorganizing the rhythms of our personal and professional lives. While the virus’s trajectory remains uncertain, its devastating power is already all too clear.
Against this backdrop of uncertainty and worry, sleep can be especially crucial to maintaining wellbeing. But are Americans getting the rest they need to stay physically and mentally healthy? How many of us are lying awake at night, contemplating medical risks or financial catastrophe?
We surveyed 984 Americans, analyzing how stress related to COVID-19 had decreased or disrupted their sleep. Going deeper, we also studied how sleep impacts differed among demographic groups. As the virus prompts generational divisions, are Baby Boomers losing more sleep than Millennials? Are men or women more likely to struggle with sleep during this difficult time? Do people in places where COVID-19 is active tend to sleep less overall?
For answers to these questions and many more insights about COVID-19’s sleep impacts, explore our findings below.
Sleep Quality Is Declining
Sleep hygiene is a central component of physical and mental wellness – and susceptible to change in times of intense stress. In general terms, sleep hygiene refers to our regular sleep habits and practices, covering the things we do consistently related to our rest. When faced with a challenge such as COVID-19, however, worry can defeat or derail our sleep routines. Anxiety floods our bodies with stress hormones, which can prompt us to stay up late, toss and turn, or lie unhappily awake.
Among our respondents, more than one in five said their sleep quality had suffered since the rise of COVID-19. Sixty percent lived in counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases, and this group was particularly likely to report sleep troubles. Those residing in unaffected areas were hardly spared sleep struggles, however: seventeen percent said their sleep quality had declined in recent weeks.
Demographic contrasts were similarly striking: Women were significantly more likely than men to report lower sleep quality since the coronavirus’s rise. This finding resonates with existing research about gender differences in sleep disorders, with women more likely than men to face serious sleep challenges. Additionally, Gen Xers were more likely than any other generation to report sleep issues stemming from COVID-19. This result may seem counterintuitive, as older Americans are most vulnerable to severe illness and death.
COVID-19 Fear Is Rising
COVID-19 can prompt many forms of worry, such as concerns about healthcare shortages or disruptions to the global economy. Yet for many of our respondents, their chief concern was far more personal: Fourteen percent said that the fear of contracting COVID-19 themselves had caused them to lose sleep.
In keeping with our earlier findings, Baby Boomers were actually least likely to lose sleep over the fear of getting the virus, despite their elevated risk. Conversely, millennials were the most likely to be missing shut-eye because of fears they’d catch COVID-19.
Contrasts between professional groups also yielded surprising findings. Hourly workers were actually less likely to report losing sleep about contracting COVID-19 than salaried employees. This seems counterintuitive in many respects, as salaried employees are more likely to have the ability to work from home. In a grim irony, it’s possible that hourly workers are far more worried about losing their incomes, losing sleep because of financial, rather than medical, concerns.
The media played a powerful role in instilling anxiety: Roughly a third of respondents said their sleep troubles stemmed from what they saw in the news coverage. In fact, this dynamic could explain millennials’ particularly intense concerns about catching COVID-19. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials are the most connected to smartphones and social media, which constantly supply new and distressing information. Indeed, leading health experts advise against consuming an excessive amount of news, as doing so can lead to unproductive panic.
Changes at Home
While many of COVID-19’s impacts fall outside of our control, we can all take concrete actions to protect ourselves and slow its spread. In addition to social distancing, we can also take other important measures within our own homes, such as cleaning frequently touched surfaces. Among our respondents, many applied this approach to their sheets: Nearly a quarter reported changing their bed linens more often due to COVID-19 concerns.
Interestingly, a number of respondents practiced a form of social distancing with their significant others at home, reducing their degree of intimacy and choosing to sleep in separate beds. Some even restricted their children from sleeping in their bed with them. Those living in affected counties were more likely to take these precautions, suggesting the particular power of a local threat.
While millennials were most likely to wash their sheets more often, they were actually least likely to observe other key precautions. For example, millennials weren’t as likely as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers to limit physical contact with family and friends. This finding indicates just how varied millennial reactions to COVID-19 can be: While some are rigorously social distancing, others are flaunting guidelines to gather and party.
We’re in This Together
Our findings indicate that COVID-19 concerns may be undermining Americans’ sleep, denying them the rest they need during this difficult moment. But while the scale of these sleep troubles may be unsettling, our results should also normalize the stress that so many are feeling. You are not alone in these unprecedented times, and there’s no shame in your sleep challenges.
As we all cope with a global pandemic surrounding COVID-19, you can do your part to keep yourself and those around you safe. Following the CDC’s guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19, and contribute to your community’s wellbeing. While you do, Sleephelp.org can help you get the sleep you need, with handy resources and guides for common sleep troubles. From conquering the anxiety that keeps you awake to the sleep benefits of meditation, we’ve got all the info you need to stay rested.
We surveyed 984 people about their sentiments toward COVID-19, also known as the novel (new) coronavirus, using Amazon Mechanical Turk. This project relies on self-reporting; therefore, there are limitations to consider, such as over- or under-reporting.
There were 518 women who took the survey, 463 men, and 3 people who identified as non-binary.
The age breakdowns are as follows:
Baby Boomers and Older: 288
Generation X: 346
The remainder were Generation Z. Their sample size was not significant enough to include in this project.
At the time of this survey, 590 people said the virus was present in their county, and the remainder said no or were unsure.
We had 475 salaried workers, 346 hourly employees, and 163 people who said they were currently unemployed.
Fair Use Statement
If you or someone you know is experiencing a decline in sleep quality due to concerns about COVID-19, please feel free to share this information for noncommercial purposes. All we ask is that you give us credit by linking back to this study.