Sleep difficulties during the COVID-19 crisis may be exacerbated by media overexposure and other factors causing fear and stress, according to findings from a large survey of French individuals.
“Physicians usually recommend coping with sleep disorders by exercising, going outside, avoiding screen time, and having a regular schedule – all recommendations difficult to apply during lockdown. Being forced to stay home and the ensuing boredom and loneliness may have led to increased [media exposure], especially among disadvantaged people and overexposure to media COVID-19 content may have contributed to fright and emotional distress,” Damien Leger of the Centre du Sommeil et de la Vigilance, Hôtel Dieu APHP, Université de Paris, and his colleagues wrote in the journal.
The investigators analyzed data from survey respondents about their sleep problems since the COVID-19 lockdown and other topics such as employment, daily activities, and sleep medications. The survey was part of a large research project, COCONEL, that has been developed to study the French population on a variety of behaviors and comprises 750,000 permanent panelists who respond to surveys. The survey was sent to random sample of panelists with no topic label to avoid selection bias. Of the 25,800 surveys sent, 1,005 responses were recorded.
Respondents were classified as having severe sleep problems if they reported that their daytime activities were affected or if their sleeping medications had increased since the lockdown. While 73% of respondents reported poor sleep in the 8 previous days, 25% reported severe sleep problems, and 54% reported that their sleep problems had worsened during the COVID-19 lockdown.
A media exposure score was created with a Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) about media exposures of different types. The investigators also queried respondents about the degree to which they found media coverage of the pandemic provoked a fear response. Overall, 68% of respondents agreed that media images and stories about COVD-19 were frightening.
The researchers found a strong association between severe sleeping problems and a high media exposure score (risk ratio, 1.49; 95% confidence interval, 1.10-2.01; P < .05).
In addition, trepidation and fear from media exposure to COVID-19 news were also associated with severe sleep problems (RR, 1.27; 95% CI, 0.92-1.75; P < .05). “Suffering from sleep problems may have increased media use at night, and thus increased stress and/or psychological distress and reinforced sleeping problems,” the investigators wrote.
Not surprisingly, respondents with financial difficulties due to the pandemic also reported severe sleeping difficulties (RR, 1.99; 95% CI, 1.49-2.65; P < .05).
For individuals who have been treated for sleep problems, the COVID-19 pandemic may ratchet up their sleep challenges. The strongest association with severe sleep problems was found in those respondents who were already taking sleeping medications before the pandemic (RR, 2.72; 95% CI, 2.04-3.61; P < .05).
The COCONEL survey has been funded by the French and National Agency for Research, the Fondation de France, and the National Research Institute for Sustainable Development.
SOURCE: Leger D et al. Sleep. 2020, Jul 25. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsaa125.