By Signe, a Teen Link volunteer and junior at Ingraham High School

Has your sleep worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic? You are not alone.

Over a year into the coronavirus pandemic, I surveyed around one hundred and thirty peers, aged 13-21, to get some insight on the ways that adolescent sleep habits have changed during this time and how those sleep changes might affect mental health. I got interested in this topic after I heard two friends talking about how one went to sleep at 4:00 am after playing video games and the other went to bed at 9:00 pm to avoid schoolwork. I wondered if this was new behavior for them, and if other people my age are experiencing similar sleep patterns.

I created my survey and posted it online for friends and other Teen Link volunteers. In my survey, I asked people to rate their quality of sleep now versus before the pandemic. The answers varied greatly. On a scale of one to ten, 26.5% of participants rated their current sleep quality a six, while 24.3% rated their pre-covid quality of sleep an eight. The consensus was that sleep quality now is worse than before the pandemic. My theory is that the worsening of sleep quality could be due to my generation’s increased screen usage—as schools are online—overall heightened stress levels due to the pandemic and related changes, and boredom.

In addition to spending so much time on video-calling platforms during the school day, of the 136 teenagers surveyed, 93% said that they are on their phones in bed. Average times for phone usage in bed ranged from 15 minutes to more than 3 hours. If you’re someone who puts off sleep to watch videos, listen to music, play video games, or chat with friends, you may be experiencing a phenomenon known as “revenge bedtime procrastination.” Yes, you heard me right. You could beaying awake later than you might want to in order to have time to do more enjoyable things that you weren’t able to do during the day. By doing this, it can feel like you’re taking control over the time you spend before going to sleep by staying up to do your own thing, even if you end up regretting it in the morning.

To get back those hours of lost sleep, 38% of people said they take naps during the day. While naps can be a good way to recover from sleep deprivation, naps that are too long or too short can also harm your sleep schedule. According to an article by Sleep Foundation, sleeping for 30 minutes or longer during the day gives the body enough time to enter a deep sleep—also known as slow-wave sleep—which can cause drowsiness as well as impair cognitive and sensory-motor performance. It also can make it harder to fall asleep at night and disrupt your overall nighttime sleep. If you usually nap for longer than 30 minutes, try to nap for 10-20 minutes instead.

Sleep not only allows your body to recharge, but it also recharges your mind. Without enough sleep, your brain can’t function properly. That means sleep and mental health are closely related. Mental health disorders—like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder—can make it harder to have a good night’s sleep. While at the same time, poor sleep can contribute to the start or worsening of mental health problems. Nutrition and exercise are both important if you want good health but taking care of your sleep is a huge priority.

If you want to work on improving your sleep quality, I recommend these tips:

  1. Create a relaxing bedtime routine. I have found that by creating a bedtime playlist, and only playing it when I am getting ready for bed, it helps my brain start to associate the music with sleep.
  2. Increase bright light exposure during the day. On sunny days, I often participate in my online classes while I am outside as it wakes me up and is a change of scenery.
  3. Only use your bed for sleeping. Make sure to only use your bed for sleeping as it can strengthen your brain’s association between your bed and sleep.
  4. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time, even on the weekends. In my personal experience, if I sleep in for too long, I wake up feeling drowsy and groggy. I’ve found that the best way to eliminate this feeling is by sticking to the same schedule, even on your off days.
  5. Exercise regularly. I recommend walking for a little each day and even try adding ankle weights when you do this. Make sure to find something that you enjoy and look forward to such as running with your dog, skipping rope, roller blading, or jumping on a trampoline!

Take care of yourself.

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