Impact of Covid-19 Social-distancing on Sleep Timing and Duration During a University Semester

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Smit, A. N., Juda, M., Livingstone, A., U., S. R., & Mistlberger, R. E. (2021). Impact of COVID-19 social-distancing on sleep timing and duration during a university semester. PLOS ONE, 16(4), e0250793.

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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250793

Social-distancing directives to contain community transmission of the COVID-19 virus can be expected to affect sleep timing, duration or quality. Remote work or school may increase time available for sleep, with benefits for immune function and mental health, particularly in those individuals who obtain less sleep than age-adjusted recommendations. Young adults are thought to regularly carry significant sleep debt related in part to misalignment between endogenous circadian clock time and social time. We examined the impact of social-distancing measures on sleep in young adults by comparing sleep self-studies submitted by students enrolled in a university course during the 2020 summer session (entirely remote instruction, N = 80) with self-studies submitted by students enrolled in the same course during previous summer semesters (on-campus instruction, N = 452; cross-sectional study design). Self-studies included 2–8 week sleep diaries, two chronotype questionnaires, written reports, and sleep tracker (Fitbit) data from a subsample. Students in the 2020 remote instruction semester slept later, less efficiently, less at night and more in the day, but did not sleep more overall despite online, asynchronous classes and ~44% fewer work days compared to students in previous summers. Subjectively, the net impact on sleep was judged as positive or negative in equal numbers of students, with students identifying as evening types significantly more likely to report a positive impact, and morning types a negative impact. Several features of the data suggest that the average amount of sleep reported by students in this summer course, historically and during the 2020 remote school semester, represents a homeostatic balance, rather than a chronic deficit. Regardless of the interpretation, the results provide additional evidence that social-distancing measures affect sleep in heterogeneous ways.

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