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It's Official: During the Pandemic, We're Sleeping In

Kean graphic image for Covid research

If you think you’ve been sleeping more during the COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone. A new study co-authored by a Kean University associate professor found average sleep time across the globe has increased, which can help fend off the virus.

Mathematics Associate Professor Mahmoud Affouf, Ph.D., worked with sleep researchers from Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Australia’s Monash University on the study, which used smartphone data to analyze three million nights’ worth of individuals’ sleep patterns before and after the pandemic.

The study found that COVID-19 mitigation strategies — such as recommendations to socially distance and quarantine — and people’s changes in their daily routine may have increased global estimated sleep time by up to 25 minutes per night  for the average person.

“Sufficient sleep duration strengthens our immune system, therefore, an increase in our sleep duration concomitant with COVID-19 public health measures is a very positive sign,” said Affouf, who conducted data analysis and inferences for the study. 

Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D., said the study is one of a number of research projects undertaken by Kean faculty during the coronavirus outbreak.

“This important research helps the community further process the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives on a personal and global scale,” Repollet said. “We are proud of the many research projects currently underway at Kean that address this unprecedented global pandemic.”

The study, entitled Estimated Sleep Duration Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Major Metropolitan Areas on Different Continents: Observational Study of Smartphone App Data, found that pre-pandemic, most people fell below the recommended nightly sleep duration of seven hours. The study was recently published in the peer reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR).

Lead author Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate scientist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, said the increase in estimated sleep duration may be just enough for most people to attain the sleep needed to rest and fight infection.

The data came from Sleep Cycle, a sleep tracking app. The study used anonymous data from about 10,000 individuals in London, Los Angeles, New York City, Seoul and Stockholm. Researchers found “remarkable” increases in estimated sleep duration in the metropolitan areas, including New York City - an increase of 24.5 minutes -  London - 20.8 minutes - and Seoul - 12.2 minutes.

Even in Stockholm, where there were not stringent COVID-19 restrictions, the study found sleep increased, suggesting residents of the Swedish city followed precautions similar to the rest of the world.

Sleeping in during the pandemic, in other words, appears to be cross-cultural.

“While sleep duration has decreased during similar crises, such as the SARS outbreak in China, our study found that sleep duration increased across five cities and three continents,” Affouf said.

The team is now working with mobile, wearable sensors to further understand trends in sleep and activity during the pandemic. 

Affouf said the team members collaborate online. “Working with researchers from the most advanced centers in the world was challenging and encouraging at the same time,” he said. “The contribution of each of us was recognized and appreciated by the entire team.”