A recent study published in Psychiatry Research provides evidence of heightened insomnia in the French population during the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis found that both loneliness and heightened worry about the virus were related to clinical levels of insomnia.
The country of France was drastically impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, declaring a public health emergency on March 17 and later introducing national lockdown. At the time of study, the country was ranked fifth for number of COVID-19-related deaths.
“The ongoing virulent pandemic has caused overwhelming worries related to fear of contamination and, at societal levels, health, economic and financial crisis that may affect sleep habits and quality,” the study authors say.
Cyrille Kossigan Kokou-Kpolou and his team wanted to explore the prevalence of sleep-related problems during the pandemic, given the lack of previous research on the subject.
To investigate this issue, researchers analyzed online survey data collected between May 3 and May 16. Respondents were 556 members of the general public in France, between the ages of 18-87. Forty-eight of the participants were diagnosed with COVID-19. The surveys measured sociodemographics, the presence of pre-existing mental or physical illness, COVID-19-related stress, and insomnia using the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI).
Results revealed that 19% of respondents met the criteria for clinical insomnia. The authors explain that this number is close to the upper estimates for the worldwide prevalence of insomnia and is in line with the numbers seen in Chinese and Italian populations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Statistical analysis showed that certain psychological factors were associated with a greater likelihood of experiencing clinical insomnia. Pre-existing psychological illness, heightened worry about the virus, and loneliness were each associated with an increased chance of meeting the criteria for insomnia. Unsurprisingly, being infected with the virus was also related to an increased likelihood of insomnia.
The finding that COVID-19 worry was related to a higher chance of insomnia was not implausible. The authors explain how excess worry can contribute to sleep disturbances through hyperarousal. “Worry provokes uncontrollable cognitive arousal which is one of the major mechanisms inducing anxiety, dysregulation in cardiac rhythm and sleep quality (Kalmbach et al., 2018),” researchers say.
Interestingly, level of education was also associated with insomnia symptoms. Specifically, those enrolled in college or with undergraduate education had more than twice the risk of developing clinical insomnia than those with postgraduate education. Neither gender nor location was related to insomnia symptoms.
These findings provide evidence that individuals with past mental health problems face a greater risk of developing sleep-related problems during a pandemic. Researchers, therefore, stress the importance of considering sleep disturbances when planning psychological interventions during COVID-19.
The study, “Insomnia during COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown: Prevalence, severity, and associated risk factors in France population”, was authored by Cyrille Kossigan Kokou-Kpolou, Olga Megalakaki, Dimitra Laimou, and Marina Kousouri.