Student Sleep During Covid-19

And more of the latest sleep news and research

The shift to online learning during the 2020-21 school year shifted student sleep schedules.

Researchers from several American universities and hospitals asked 5,346 adolescents to complete online surveys about their school instruction — whether in-person, online with scheduled class times or online without live classes — and what time they went to bed and what time they awoke.

Of those who attended school in-person, 20.4% of middle school and 37.2% of high school students reported getting enough sleep — nine hours for middle schoolers and eight hours for high schoolers. 

Of those who reported attending live online classes, 38.7% of middle school and 56.9% of high school students reported getting enough sleep. 

In contrast, more than 64% of middle school and 81% of high school students who worked online without live classes reported getting enough sleep. 

Even when online and in-person classes started at the same time, students learning online reported more sleep. 

“Without the required transportation time or time required to get ready for school in the morning, online students were able to wake later and thus get more sleep,” said lead author Lisa Meltzer, a pediatric psychologist with National Jewish Health in Denver.

The study found that a middle school start time between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. yielded the greatest number of students getting sufficient rest. For high school, that start time was 9 a.m.

The study was published May 2 in the journal Sleep.

Only the Lonely

Fruit flies typically are social creatures, but when they are put in insolation for as little as one week they begin to overeat and lose sleep. Sound familiar?

A new study by researchers at The Rockefeller University in New York found changes in gene expression, brain activity and behavior in fruit flies when separated from their group. The study was published Aug. 18 in Nature.

“Flies are wired to have a specific response to social isolation,” said Michael W. Young, head of the Laboratory of Genetics at Rockefeller University in a news release. “We found that loneliness has pathological consequences, connected to changes in a small group of neurons, and we’ve begun to understand what those neurons are doing.”

A small group of brain cells known as P2 neurons were involved in the changes in eating and sleeping, the release said. When researchers shut down the P2 neurons of the isolated flies, the insects stopped overeating and losing sleep. When they boosted P2 in flies only isolated for one day, the flies ate and slept as if they had been alone for a week.

While finding the P2 neurons’ involvement in fruit fly behavior during isolation isn’t a direct link to other animals or even humans, it does open the door to future research questions.

“Clinically oriented studies suggest that a large number of adults in the United States experienced significant weight gains and loss of sleep throughout the past year of isolation precautions due to Covid-19,” Young said. “It may well be that our little flies are mimicking the behaviors of humans living under pandemic conditions for shared biological reasons.”

The Perfect Nap 

Woman taking a nap on the grass

When you’re tired, you’re more likely to lack focus and make errors. A short nap can make you sharper and more productive. But what’s a good length of time? An hour? Half an hour? Longer? Shorter?

According to a study conducted by NASA, naps can restore mental sharpness at the same rate as a full night of sleep. NASA researchers found that pilots who slept in the cockpit for 26 minutes showed 54% more alertness and improved job performance by 34%, according to an Aug. 26 Business Insider article.

The ideal length of time for a nap, however, is a little less than 26 minutes. NASA recommends 10- to 20-minute naps to prevent the grogginess that occurs with longer naps. 

Sleeplessness Speeds Aging

The haze of sleepless nights with a baby can lead to more than fatigue — it can age you. 

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles took blood samples from 33 new mothers to discover their biological age, which can differ from chronological age.

Researchers found that, a year after giving birth, the biological age of mothers who slept less than seven hours a night by the time their baby was 6 months old were 3 to 7 years older biologically than those who slept seven hours or more. More than half of the mothers were getting less than seven hours of sleep, both six months and a year after birth, according to an Aug. 5 news release.

“The early months of postpartum sleep deprivation could have a lasting effect on physical health,” said the study lead author Judith Carroll, UCLA professor of psychobiology. “We know from a large body of research that sleeping less than seven hours a night is detrimental to health and increases the risk of age-related diseases.”

She encouraged new mothers to get extra sleep by taking naps when the baby sleeps, allowing family and friends to help, and asking their partner to help with the baby during the night or early morning. 

“We found that with every hour of additional sleep, the mother’s biological age was younger,” Carroll said.

Co-author Christine Dunkel Schetter, UCLA professor of psychology and psychiatry, cautioned that increased biological aging doesn’t automatically cause harm to mothers’ bodies. “We don’t want the message to be that mothers are permanently damaged by infant care and loss of sleep,” she said. “We don’t know if these effects are long lasting.”

Finding Sleep’s Sweet Spot

Snoring classic alarm clock on blue pastel trendy background. Flat lay, top view mock up. Minimal concept of rest, quality of sleep, good night, insomnia, relaxation

Healthy sleep leads to healthy aging, according to a study published Aug. 30 in the journal JAMA Neurology.

The study, conducted by researchers at Stanford University in Stanford, California, examined sleep data from 4,417 adults between the ages of 65 and 85 in Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States. 

They found that adults who slept less than six hours had elevated levels of beta amyloid, one of the first detectable markers of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a Aug. 30 CNN article. These participants also showed poorer performance on cognitive tests.

Sleeping too much also had its problems. Adults who slept more than nine hours a night also did not do as well on cognitive tests as those who slept between seven and eight hours a night.

“The main takeaway is that it is important to maintain healthy sleep late in life,” said the study’s lead author Joe Winer, a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford. “Additionally, both people who get too little sleep and people who get too much sleep had higher (body mass index and) more depressive symptoms.”

Older adults should consider sleep just as important as diet and exercise for their health, he said.

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