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Sleep deprivation disparities widened due to Covid-19, study finds


By Rebecca Jenkins
18 January 2022

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The Covid-19 pandemic has widened existing disparities in quality of sleep, with women and people from BAME heritage most likely to report sleep loss, research finds.

The large-scale community-based prospective longitudinal study analysed data from seven waves of the Understanding Society: Covid-19 Study collected from April 2020 to January 2021 and linked to pre-pandemic data for baseline information.

In total, 8,163 people aged 16 years and older took part in all seven waves of the study giving information on whether they experienced ‘rather more’ or ‘much more’ than usual sleep loss due to worry.

Women were more than twice as likely as men to report sleep loss over the 10-month study period, the researchers found.

‘Being female, having young children, perceived financial difficulties and Covid-19 symptoms were all predictive of sleep loss,’ the study authors reported in BMJ Open.

‘There is emerging evidence that mental health experiences during the Covid- 19 pandemic in the UK differ between men and women, with more women suffering from anxiety in the early stages of lockdown.’

Women’s position in the labour market might increase their exposure to Covid-19, as women represent a significant majority of front-line workers in social care, education and healthcare, they added.

Individuals from BAME heritage showed a higher prevalence and incidence rate of sleep loss than British white individuals, the study found.

‘This reflects the fact that those of BAME heritage have disproportionately 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,’ the authors said.

‘All of these factors are likely to increase the risk of sleep loss, with the result that once all these other factors are controlled for, being a member of a BAME community was associated with a reduced chance of sleep loss – highlighting the complex relationship between ethnicity and sleep health.’

Future studies might investigate whether some ethnic minorities are more at risk of sleep loss, to aid the design of more targeted sleep interventions, they suggested.

‘In conclusion, the Covid-19 pandemic and the policy responses to it, including home working and schooling, have widened the disparity of sleep deprivation across gender and ethnicity, putting women and ethnic minorities at an even greater disadvantage,’ the study authors concluded.

‘Policy makers and health professionals need to take action now to support and promote better sleep health among vulnerable groups during the pandemic, averting future secondary complications.’

It comes after a UK study found that anxiety and depression were common after severe Covid-19 infection, with patients requiring ‘coordinated rehabilitation’ after discharge.

This story first appeared on our sister title, The Pharmacist.

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