Categories
Uncategorized

Do you hit the snooze button and snooze again?

Who knew that ”COVID-19” would be a household name for 2020. Eight months into the new decade and it is still with us. As we pivot, modify, and adapt to the new norms, the common theme through it all is more time at home. For a small minority, this may be good news. But for most others, we may find ourselves sleeping more and feeling more lethargic.

Does more sleep time equate to better sleep quality?

A survey led by King’s College London showed that 62% of respondents in the UK are at least getting the same amount of sleep they use to before lockdown or more. But why do we sleep more when we are moving less?

Sleep is important for both our physical and mental health. Getting high quality sleep and enough of it helps:

Our recent poll on Instagram (@Globalc19study) showed that 71% of our followers reported that lockdown has affected their sleeping habit.

What does the research say?

Dr. Mathew Walker, a sleep expert reveal interesting facts about sleep in his book ‘Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams‘. We mention some below:

  • The average person needs at least 8 hours of sleep per night, however, 2/3 of the population do not get enough sleep.
  • The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.
  • Short Sleeper Syndrome is a sleep condition that allows a person to sleep less than 6 hours and be fully functional. Research by Shi et al (2018) demonstrated that short sleepers tend to be more optimistic/energetic, better at multi-tasking, have higher pain threshold, and don’t suffer from jet lag.
  • Sleep loss is linked to the acceleration of a plethora of common issues, such as DNA damage, cancer, diabetes and weight gain.
  • Some people process caffeine faster than others, and we get less efficient at processing it as we age.
  • We produce a neurotransmitter (Adenosine) which is continuously secreted from the moment we wake and builds up until we cannot resist the urge to fall asleep – a process known as sleep pressure.

A recent self-report study showed that during the pandemic, people slept more on average but, presented poorer sleep quality. Sleep quality is defined by one’s satisfaction of the experience, including the initiation of sleep, its maintenance, its quantity, and the level of refreshment upon awakening.

So what are the factors influencing sleep during the pandemic?

  • Physical Activity plays a crucial role helping us consume energy (stamina) and keeping our mind and body healthy.
  • Anxiety and stress, which could be due to numerous factors such as isolation, work, incertitude or conflicts (read more about it in our previous blogpost).
  • Quality of sleep, which includes your quantity of sleep, how fast you’re able to fall asleep, how tired you feel when you wake up and how often you wake up at night.
  • Exposure to light, being exposed to screens may negatively impact your sleep cycle, while being exposed to natural lighting improves your circadian rhythm.
  • Sleep habits, are mainly influenced by behavioural and environmental factors before sleeping. (E.g. exercising before bed and being exposed to blue light both negatively influences your sleep).

Many people report having more vivid dreams during lockdown – why?

  • 78% of our social media followers claim to dream more often and better able to recall their dreams since the start of lockdown while 25% experienced an increase in nightmares. This increase in recalling one’s dream is partially due to the amount of sleep we’re getting. More sleep equals more time in the REM stage which equals more dream time. (REM or Rapid Eye Movement stage is the stage during which dreams, body movement and faster pulse/ breathing occur).
  • Sleep is sometimes referred to as overnight therapy (It boosts brainwaves), since sleeping and dreams help us process emotions, information and memories. It is proved to help process painful emotions and anxiety.
  • It is thought that dreams can also help us prepare for difficult situations by producing dreams simulating these stressful situations to help us face our fears, this mechanism being referred to as the threat-simulation theory.
  • In an on going study, Covid-19 lockdown has been found to cause a 35% increase in dream recall and 15% increase in nightmares. In a different study analyzing dreams, nightmares have been linked with parasomnias and PTSD symptoms. Deirdre Barrett, a Harvard professor and author of ‘Committee of Sleep’ explains that this increase in dreams and nightmare could be due to the fact that the virus is invisible, and thus take different form/shape in one’s mind.

How can you improve your sleep quality?

In his book, Matthew Walker shared some tips to promote better sleep habits:

  • Stick to a schedule and a routine, it will allow your body to adapt to a consistent sleep schedule. You can do so by setting an alarm every morning at the same time while avoiding pressing the snooze button and setting a bedtime ritual to prepare your body to sleep (e.g. taking a warm bath or reading a book, avoid blue lights!).
  • Sleep in your bed without technology. Avoid working or using your laptop in bed so you can associate your bed strictly with sleeping. If you have a hard time falling asleep, do not force it: Instead get out of bed and do something that will relax you – but stay away from screens.
  • Expose yourself to the right type of lighting. This means avoid blue light before getting into bed and expose yourself to natural lights – through walks or opening the blinds – to improve your circadian rhythm and melatonin levels. The circadian rhythm is responsible for your sleep/walk state while melatonin is the hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle which increases in the evening to induce sleep.
  • Avoid napping, especially after 3pm. Even though you are spending more time at home and might be tempted, you should avoid naps as it will impede on your sleep cycle.
  • Be physically active. Lockdown or not, being physically active for 150 minutes/week helps you feel alert during the day and sleep better at night.
  • Actively try to reduce your stress levels. A wide range of apps are available to teach you breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques e.g., Calm, which is available in the app store.
  • Keep a healthy and balanced diet. Avoid large meals, caffeine/sugary/alcoholic drinks, especially later in the day since it will disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Have a cool bedroom. When we stay cool, we’re referring to the temperature in the room; we tend to sleep better in cooler environments.

This post was written by Ms. Laetitia Al Khoury (@LaetitiaAK), a MSc student on the Masters in Child Development degree at UCL with minor comments from Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

How has your sleep been affected by lockdown? Share your tips/tricks with us on how to improve your sleep at contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!


Categories
Uncategorized

Think positive thoughts: What is the pandemic ‘Pet Effect’?

In the start of a series of blogs, we will explore interesting topics during and after lockdown, incorporating initial findings from the Global Covid Study wherever possible.

The theme this week is worries about our pets.

Small doses of stress are healthy, but too much may be exhausting. According to initial results in our survey outlined in Figure 1:

  • Other people not social distancing (51.8%) is the number 1 worry, followed closely behind in second place;
  • The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (e.g., when it will end, how it is transmitted) (50.8%) and
  • Future plans (46.3%) in third.

An often neglected worry that is less commonly discussed in the media yet features is endorsed by 2.4% of respondents at the end of the spectrum are animal lovers who are particularly worried about their furry animals. What do we know?

Figure 1. Bar chart ranking sources of stress that people have identified during lockdown between 17 April to 28 May 2020.
Pets during and after the Pandemic

The week before the UK lockdown on 23 March saw a sharp surge in pet adoptions. More than 150 dogs and cats reportedly found new homes in London. This is welcome news for pets, and new owners.

But pet ownership is a huge responsibility, and a long-term commitment. Whilst adopting during the pandemic may provide owners with more time to train their pet, more attention to pets, and better relationships (useful sources here), it is important to remember our commitment to pets even after the pandemic. Here are some tips to remember:

  1. Whenever you go out with your pet, make sure they stay at least 2 meters away from others. Even though pets are not known to transmit the virus, the first known case of a tiger in the New York Bronx zoo, and two house cats in New York has made headlines for testing positive for COVID-19.
  2. Cover their paws during walks or clean them before entering your house. Generally, bathing your pet often and thoroughly wash your hands after you’ve been in contact with them are likely good habits to adopt.
  3. Unless your dog requires urgent treatment, avoid going to the veterinary. Further advice on animal care can be found on the UK government website here.
Pets improve your health

While the health benefits of pets, or the ‘pet effect‘ have initially been mixed, the field has grown demonstrated that the effects are largely positive.

  1. Pets are a loyal, accessible source of support and companionship especially during times of crisis. A recent meta-analysis of 17 studies found that pets make good companions to people suffering from mental health problems by supporting individuals psychologically and emotionally and those with/without cardiovascular risk.
  2. Pets may help take our minds away from the daily upsetting news, negative feelings and experiences, yet promote regular routines in lifestyle such as going for a walk, playing ball, and cuddling, which has been found to have health benefits.
  3. Pet ownership has been found to increase self-esteem, decrease loneliness and increase physical fitness. These positive feelings – higher level of satisfaction and companionship – also extend to younger pet owners compared to other pet owners.
Other pet news involved with COVID-19
  • Through their extremely strong sense of smell, dogs can detect low concentration of volatile particles, making them effective ‘sniffers’. A pilot training program from the University of Pennsylvania is using scent detection dogs to discriminate between COVID-19 positive and negative participants. Although it may not be 100% accurate, dogs can help sniff out those who need help faster and in a safer way, and in turn help the healthcare system.
  • On other ocassions, therapy dogs have been particularly helpful in reducing anxiety/stress amongst students (which in turn improves attendance) and in therapy with different populations including children with autism and patients with dementia and other pre-existing health conditions – although more evidence from randomised-controlled trials are needed to test the efficacy of dog-assisted therapy.

Regardless of what your position is with pets, we must protect pets and people during this pandemic. For more pet advice see Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.

This post was co-written by Ms. Laetitia Al Khoury (@LaetitiaAK), a MSc student on the Masters in Child Development degree at UCL and Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

How do pets make you feel? Do you have a story to share about you and your pet? Please send your suggestions to contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!