What may be long term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on sleep, stress, and mental health are being borne by college students, according to study findings presented at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, held from June 4 to 8, 2022, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Recognition of the pandemic influence on sleep, stress, and mental health worldwide has been documented. Universities have seen a flood of students reporting stress and mental health issues. Researchers sought to investigate sleep, stress, depression, and anxiety among college students within the scope of the pandemic.

To accomplish this, they conducted a survey between May 2020 and October 2021 of 116 college students (91.3% female; 23.1±6.5 years of age) evaluated for sleep quality with the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), and for stress, depression, and anxiety with the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (DASS-21).


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Mean PSQI scores were elevated compared with pre-pandemic study scores (male 7.8±2.0; female 7.0±3.9 vs pre-pandemic study results for Dietch et al [2016] of all undergraduates [n=866] 5.64±2.79). Total sleep time showed 7.06±1.65 hours, range 1-12; average bedtime 10:25 PM±44.0 minutes, range 9:00 PM-5:00 AM; average waketime 7:45 AM±9 minutes, range 4:30 AM-2:00 PM. Sleep onset latency — typically 10-20 minutes — showed 41% with 16-30 minutes and 41.8% at 31 minutes or longer. More than half of participants reported fairly bad or a very bad time initiating sleep in the previous 30 days, and almost half of participants claimed to have trouble staying asleep a minimum of 2 times per week.

Over 17% claimed they used medication 3 or more times per week, and more than 40% said that maintaining enthusiasm was somewhat or a big problem. MDASS-21 revealed moderate to severe scores for depression (14.9±11.4); anxiety (12.9±10.0); stress (19.1±9.8). Pre-pandemic study results for Kia-Keating et al (2018) of undergraduates (n>1400) showed depression (4.1±4.3); anxiety (3.9±3.6); stress (6.0±4.1).

Researchers concluded that, “regrettably, undergraduates are experiencing “long-haul” impacts on sleep, mental health, and stress.” They went on to say that if a major health crisis in our universities is to be alleviated, “recognition of the enduring struggles is critical.”

Reference

Okun M, Dupy C, Sollenberger A, et al. Sleep, mental health, and stress in college students: impact of COVID-19. Presented at SLEEP 2022; June 4-8; Charlotte, North Carolina. Abstract 654.