‘Sleepless in lockdown’: unpacking differences in sleep loss during the coronavirus pandemic in the UK

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

July 21, 2020


Background: Covid-19 has been shown to be having a disproportionate impact on the health of individuals from different ethnic groups and those employed in certain occupations, whilst the indirect impacts of Covid-19, including the closure of schools and business and the move to home working, fall disproportionately on the young and on women. These factors may in turn impact upon sleep health. Research on sleep deprivation during the pandemic crisis to date has been limited. The present study aimed to explore the levels and social determinants of self-reported sleep loss among the general population during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, with a particular focus on ethnic and gender disparities. Methods: Newly available national representative survey data from Understanding Society COVID19 Study collected during April 2020 were analysed. These data were linked to Wave 9 of Understanding Society conducted in 2018/19, providing information about the respondents prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. Cross-sectional analysis provided prevalence estimates, whilst analysis of the linked longitudinal data provided incidence estimates. The analytical sample included 15,360 respondents aged 16 and above; among these, 12,206 reported no problem of sleep loss before the epidemic. Results: Prevalence and incidence rates of perceived sleep loss were 24.7% and 20.2% respectively. Women (at the level of 31.8% and 27.0%) and individuals from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) communities (at the level of 32.0% and 24.6%) were more vulnerable to sleep deprivation due to the pandemic. Multivariate regression analysis shows that being female, the presence of young children in the household, perceived financial difficulties and being a Covid-19-related key worker were all predictive of sleep loss. Once these covariates were controlled for the bivariate relationship between ethnicity and sleep loss was reversed, reflecting the complex interaction between the coronavirus epidemic and ethnicity. Conclusions: The pandemic has widened the disparity of sleep deprivation across different groups, with women with young children, key workers and people of BAME heritage all experiencing difficulty in sleeping, which in turn may negatively affect mental and physical health and well-being.

Published in






Open Access

The copyright holder for this preprint is the author/funder, who has granted medRxiv a license to display the preprint in perpetuity. It is made available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

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