The Pandemic Has Altered Our Sleeping Habits

BROOKLYN — Anaya Lumsden, age 17, wakes up groggy, and exhausted at 9:52am for her third period English class. She’s backed up on classwork and has completely lost her energy for the whole day within the first period of classes. Anaya’s case is like many students and faculty across the country amidst the pandemic, suffering from a terrible sleep schedule, and not knowing how to cope with it. 

Why Do We Need Sleep?

Before we address how others are sleeping, let’s break down our need for sleep in general. Sleep is considered a naturally recurring state of mind and body, that limits use of your senses and reduces muscle activity. This phenomenon might sound more confusing written out, but essentially what sleep does is recharge your body and mind through limited movement, and makes sure you’re fresh and energized upon awakening. In addition, sleep helps to fend off disease and keeps the body healthy, according to the Sleep Foundation. 

At the height of the pandemic, people claimed that their sleep habits drastically changed since the beginning of lockdown. According to a study of 1,015 people conducted by SleepStandards, 53 percent of participants claimed that they spent less time asleep than they used to before the lockdown was enacted. In addition, 67 percent of the participants admitted that they believe their sleep was healthier before restrictions started. 

The problem lies within the post-lockdown numbers however. Within the same study, a whopping 98 percent of participants said that they have developed new sleeping problems, and 68 percent say that they feel stressed or find it hard to sleep at night. What’s even more concerning is that the number one cause of sleep issues within the study was the abundance of stress and anxiety people are facing in their new and uncertain lifestyles. 

Clearly the pandemic has had some effect on the way we sleep at night, but this change has been more prevalent between generations. Data shows that generation Z (18-22) and millennials (23-38) have the latest reported sleep times. On top of that, the study indicates that the effects of insomnia affect both of these generations more than any other generation within the pandemic. 

The New Student Sleep Schedule

The sleep trauma brought on by the impact of the pandemic has really taken its toll on the students of New York schools in particular.

“My performance in class is very low due to my poor sleep schedule, and I lack the motivation I would have with a healthy one,” says Anaya Lumsden, a senior instrumental major at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA). The way students function in school is tremendously dependent on how much rest they receive a night, yet everything going on around them within the world, schoolwork included, affects how much sleep they get as well.

“I feel like going to sleep at night is pointless since we have so much time within the day to rest,” Anaya said. 

Looking at the youngest children in the public school system, students ranging from ages 6-11 sleep approximately 57 minutes later than used to on weekdays, and 30 minutes later than they would on weekends pre-pandemic, according to The New York Times.

Ellia Espeut, a 6th grade student at I.S 266, has been experiencing the same delays in her sleep as any other child her age.

“I have an unhealthy sleep schedule, but I don’t want to sit in class tired, I just can’t help it,” Ellia said.

Ellia’s school schedule requires her to be awake at 9am, despite her being backed up with school work, and going to sleep very late, every single night. According to more research done by the Times, experts cannot differentiate between the sleep schedules of younger children between weekends and weekdays, essentially saying that they operate on a “holiday schedule.” 

Now viewing the issue on a college level, students don’t feel any change within their work ethic yet are well aware of their heinous sleep schedules. Sienne Tejera, a sophomore student at SUNY Buffalo claims that she still gets her work accomplished, in spite of her lack of a consistent sleep schedule.

“My online classes don’t require as much attention, so I can sleep whenever I want and still get my work done,” she said.

However, she acknowledges that insomnia had been existent within her daily routine, and affects her peers as well.

“At one time we all couldn’t fall asleep the same, I was awake for more than 12 hours at one point,” she added. 

Tired Teachers

Teachers are fighting the very same fight as their students in a quest to achieve proper rest. The staff at schools are dealing with the increased workload, constant screen time, and stress, all while trying to conduct a proper classroom. Edia Rivens, a teacher at P.S/I.S 147 has been experiencing all these symptoms and more since the beginning of quarantine.

Firstly, it seems that the workload teachers receive requires them to be up at later times.

“Most times I do not go to bed until 2am to be up for work at 7am,” Ms. Rivens said.

According to Sleep Health Solutions, the transition from in-person to digital learning is not an easy one: “In order to switch things into a digital format or communicate with classmates and colleagues, some activities require more time than they did in the past.”

This increased workload is also a contributing cause to the excessive amount of screen time that has been afflicting us since the start of distance learning. The increased amount of sleep time affects our ability to achieve quality sleep, and limits the amount of natural sleep-inducing hormones (melatonin) that our body produces, according to experts at the Sleep Foundation. This often translates into day-to-day tiredness. This phenomenon directly affects teachers and students alike, as well as Edia, who encounters personal issues regarding her lack of sleep.

“When at work, I am not clear headed and often nod off during class. I never ever feel fully rested,” Ms. Rivens said.

On a positive note, for students feeling extra tired during classes, your teachers will understand. The sense of community and care for one’s mental and physical health has definitely increased. Teachers are actively trying to understand their students’ perspectives during the pandemic, in order to ensure they stay mentally healthy.

Some teachers, like Ms. Rivens, even allow some to sleep within class.

“When my students have not slept, I do leave them asleep for a while before waking them up depending on how deep they sleep. I usually tell their parents, some kids are just tired, and they are human,” she added/

Although sleeping in class is not encouraged, it’s good to know that at least some teachers understand what we’re going through and in the long run, it means a lot.

The Cure For a Restless City

From what it looks like, New York City is caught within a haze of insomnia and restlessness that affects all of its inhabitants in some way. Likewise, everyone has their own way of coping with their lack of sleep, whether it be healthy or unhealthy. But, before you consider that bottle of Nyquil that will put you to sleep until next week, here are some friendly tips on how to achieve a good sleep schedule.

The Sleep Foundation prescribes four different methods of achieving good sleep, all of which are proven to promote restfulness:

  • Creating a sleep inducing bedroom
  • Optimizing your sleep schedule
  • Creating a pre-bedtime routine
  • Practicing good sleep habits during the day

In addition to those four methods, regular exercise and activity was the number one method that people use in order to retain a proper sleep schedule according to SleepStandards. There are definitely more non-traditional ways to attain this but for the most part, these strategies are the most effective so far.

Now this is all easier said than done for sure, especially with the way online school is functioning, but with some dedication and elbow grease, and a couple of comfy pillows, we can all get some better sleep at night. 

– by Evan Espeut ’21