Findings published in the Journal of Translational Medicine suggest that Italians have suffered a reduction in sleep quality since the beginning of the pandemic, characterized by changes in sleep efficiency, sleep onset latency, sleep disturbances, and daytime dysfunction. These adverse changes were more pronounced in those who were remote working.
As the COVID-19 pandemic struck Italy, the country, like many others, went into intense lockdown. Study authors Luigi Barrea and colleagues describe how this unprecedented quarantine drastically altered citizens’ daily lives, altering their grocery shopping habits, reducing their opportunities for physical activity, and leaving many citizens working from home.
Barrea and colleagues wanted to see how these changes may have impacted citizens’ sleeping habits and possibly affected their Body Mass Index (BMI).
In a retrospective study, data was obtained from 121 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65. Data was collected at baseline, before any quarantine, and again 40 days after lockdown. Participants’ BMI was calculated, and their quality of sleep was assessed using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI).
Results revealed that, overall, participants showed a significant increase in PSQI score — indicating worse sleep — following the 40 days of quarantine. When it came to specific aspects of sleep, participants showed increased sleep disturbance and daytime dysfunction, less efficient sleep, and an increase in the time it took them to fall asleep.
Interestingly, those who reported ‘smart working’ — using technology to work from home —showed a greater loss in sleep quality than those who did not. While this effect was found for both genders, the effect was strongest in men. The authors point out that the use of smart devices has been strongly linked to poor sleep. Working from home may lead to increased screen time, including time spent in front of the computer or television screen late at night, which can impact sleep quality.
Next, subjects’ BMI was found to increase, overall, after the quarantine. As the authors point out, limited shopping excursions likely led people towards unhealthy food choices, such as more processed food and less fresh fruits and vegetables. These food choices may also have affected participants’ quality of sleep, as energy intake from fats and snacks has been linked to poorer sleep. Unsurprisingly, participants also reported reduced physical activity during the lockdown.
The researchers address how stress related to the pandemic likely affected participants’ sleep, creating a destructive cycle. Stress releases cortisol in the body, and hypercortisolism has been linked to interrupted sleep, fewer hours of sleep, and reduced slow-wave sleep. In turn, poor sleep can exacerbate hypercortisolism, contributing to an endless cycle.
The study was limited since it did not include an analysis of subjects’ diet. Nevertheless, the authors suggest that “consuming food containing or promoting the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin at dinner such as roots, leaves, fruits, and seeds such as almonds, bananas, cherries, and oats” may help mitigate sleep disturbances during quarantine.
The study, “Does Sars‑Cov‑2 threaten our dreams? Effect of quarantine on sleep quality and body mass index”, was authored by Luigi Barrea, Gabriella Pugliese, Lydia Framondi, Rossana Di Matteo, Daniela Laudisio, Silvia Savastano, Annamaria Colao, and Giovanna Muscogiuri.