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    CPC Director on ITV News Coronavirus podcast

    The Covid-19 pandemic has caused sleeping difficulties for women with young children, key workers and people of BAME heritage, a CPC study has found.

    The study, initially carried out in 2020 during the first four months of the pandemic, has since been widely reported and cited across news articles, stemming from its coverage in The Guardian in July 2020 in the article ‘Coronavirus lockdown caused sharp increase of insomnia in UK’. The project’s lead, CPC Director, Professor Jane Falkingham OBE, appears on the latest episode of the ITV News podcast ‘Coronavirus: What you need to know’ released today (12 February 2021). Below we delve deeper into the research discussed on the podcast, and examine who has been losing sleep during lockdown.

    The study revealed that sleep loss is affecting more people during the Covid-19 pandemic, reflecting rising stress levels due to anxieties about health, financial consequences, changes in social life and daily routine, all of which may affect sleep. Sleep deprivation can have knock-on effects for physical and mental health. The findings show that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused sleeping difficulties for women with young children, key workers and people of BAME heritage in particular.

    Conducted by Professor Falkingham and a team from CPC and the Centre for Research on Ageing, the analysis used survey data from the Understanding Society COVID-19 Study collected during April 2020. It was then compared with survey data collected in 2018/19. The sample included 15,360 respondents aged 16 and above. The first lockdown led to a rise in the number of people suffering sleeping problems from one in six (15.7%) of the sample to one in four (24.7%).

    The findings show that women have been more vulnerable to sleep deprivation during lockdown. The proportion of women losing sleep over worry before the pandemic was 18.9%, rising to 31% during the pandemic. This is in-line with much of the recent research that suggests experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK have been very different for men and women. In many households, women continue to be the primary carers for children and older relatives. For women with children 0-4 years of age, 19.5% suffered sleep loss over worry before the pandemic. This doubled to 40% during the first lockdown. For women with school children aged 5 – 18, sleep loss also rose, from 21.7% to 38%.

    People from BAME heritage were also more likely to experience sleep loss during lockdown than those identifying as British White, mainly due to demographic and socioeconomic differences between the groups. The proportion of people in BAME groups reporting sleep problems was 20.7% before the pandemic, and 32% during lockdown. These findings join up with other research that BAME groups have higher rates of coronavirus infection, high anxiety associated with coronavirus-specific circumstances, are more likely to be key workers, to have dependent children, and to feel lonely. All of these are likely to increase the risk of sleep loss.

    For keyworkers, the proportion reporting sleep problems before and during the pandemic was 16.4% and 28.9% respectively. Keyworkers from the health and social care sector or education and childcare sector had the highest increase of sleep loss since pandemic lockdown, from 19% to 36.6% for the health and social care sector and from 15.8% to 33% for the education and childcare sector.

    Professor Falkingham comments: “We are seeing that Covid-19 is having a disproportionate impact on the health of individuals from different ethnic groups and those employed in certain jobs. The indirect impacts of Covid-19, including the closure of schools and businesses, and the move to home working, seem to be worse for working age people and women. These factors may, in turn, impact upon sleep health.”

    She continues: “The Covid-19 pandemic and the policy responses to it have widened the differences in sleep deprivation across gender and ethnicity, putting women and ethnic minorities at an even greater disadvantage. Disrupted and poor sleep is associated with wider mental and physical health challenges. Policy-makers and health professionals need to take action now, and we are encouraged that this research was included in the recent ‘COVID-19: mental health and wellbeing surveillance report ’ published by Public Health England, and the ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact on children, young people and families - evidence summary’ published by the Scottish Government. It will be vital that better sleep health is supported and promoted amongst vulnerable groups during the pandemic if they are to avoid future secondary health complications.”

    The study team are currently examining further waves of the Understanding Society Covid-19 survey to understand the continuing effects of the pandemic on sleeplessness and plan to update their findings in the coming months.

    You can listen to the podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify - or listen using the ITV News web player..

    • For further information on this study, read the full preprint articles 'Sleepless in Lockdown: unpacking differences in sleep loss during the coronavirus pandemic in the UK' on medRxiv, and The Lancet Public Health. For a shorter overview, see CPC Policy Briefing 55 ‘Who’s been losing sleep during lockdown?'.

    • The analysis of these data also appeared across the media, including The Guardian, Coronavirus lockdown caused sharp increase of insomnia in UK. You can find links to more articles on this study on the CPC Covid-19 research pages.

    • Policy-makers have referenced the study findings in their reports: ‘COVID-19: mental health and wellbeing surveillance report’ (Public Health England) and ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact on children, young people and families - evidence summary September 2020’ (Scottish Government)

    The Understanding Society COVID-19 study is a monthly survey on the experiences and reactions of the UK population to the COVID-19 pandemic, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Health Foundation. All Understanding Society adult sample members aged 16+ were invited to participate. The data analysed in this study is from the first wave of Understanding Society Covid-19 Study, conducted in April 2020. The data were then linked to Wave 9 of Understanding Society conducted in 2018/19, providing information about the respondents prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK. The COVID-19 survey data is available to researchers via the UK Data Service.

    Posted 02/02/2021 14:12