Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
Those who consider themselves to be night owls may be experiencing more sleep problems along with mental and physical health issues during the pandemic, according to a a new study from the Sleep Research Society, recently published in the journal Sleep.
Surveying nearly 20,000 adults across 15 countries and regions from May to August 2020, researchers found that those with an evening chronotype — a unique trait defining circadian rhythms in an individual — showed an alarming increase in sleep problems amid the pandemic. The chronotypes identified in the study included:
The study was used to illustrate the role of chronotypes in a person’s sleep health, mental health, and even physical health — and why evening types may be susceptible to chronic, long-term physical and mental health conditions over time. Evening types, when asked about their quality of life amid COVID-19, were more likely to report feelings of stress and sadness, as well as disturbing thoughts about themselves and the past, and even nightmares.
While evening types slept less before the pandemic than other circadian types, that difference disappeared amid the pandemic. The sleep duration within a 24-hour period was significantly longer among evening types versus morning types, therefore resulting in more naps during the day for night owls.
Despite the opportunity to sleep more often during the pandemic, the sleep problems that evening-types encountered “override any positive effects that the adjustment of sleep-wake behavior toward preferred timing during the pandemic.”
Notably, participants who identified as definite evening-type chronotypes saw the largest increase in sleep problems during the pandemic. They experienced an uptick in problems with poor sleep quality, sleep onset problems, sleep maintenance problems, excessive sleepiness, fatigue, and even nightmares. These findings are in line with previous studies on the associations between sleep problems and chronotypes, showing time and time again that night owls face more sleep problems.
|Sleep Problem||Most Impacted Chronotype||Least Impacted Chronotype|
|Poor sleep quality||Definite Evening-Type||Intermediate-Types|
|Sleep onset problems||Definite Evening-Type||Intermediate-Types|
|Sleep maintenance problems||Definite Evening-Type||Intermediate-Types|
|Early morning awakening||Definite Morning-Types||Intermediate-Types|
|Excessive sleepiness||Definite Evening-Type||Moderate Morning-Types|
|Nightmares||Definite Evening-Type||Definite Morning-Types|
Issues for night owls go beyond getting a good night’s sleep in the midst of COVID-19: The study also found that a higher number of morning types had maintained steady work during the pandemic, and had achieved more education than other chronotypes. The study noted that night owls also had higher unemployment rates, and encountered more financial hardship during the pandemic.
The reasons for these factors are intersectional; yet issues that stem from financial hardship can notably contribute to a person’s overall stress and mental health, potentially influencing a person’s ability to achieve quality sleep.
The researchers noted that chronotypes should be taken into serious consideration in the future, for the general public health. Night owls are believed to face challenges with sleep because their circadian type aligns less with morning-oriented societal schedules.
A more flexible work schedule, as seen during the pandemic due to a large influx of remote workers, may allow better adjustment of sleep-wake behavior for those who thrive with later schedules. Such considerations may also help combat potential chronic health issues and allow individuals to take measures that may mitigate health risks.