Not-so-sweet dreams: why so many Australians are losing sleep during COVID

But the Monash study, which will be published later this year, will also show 42 per cent of those whose sleep was bad before the pandemic had found it improved because they could sleep and work in a routine that suited their body better.

“We are finding a dichotomy; a group of people reporting poor or worse sleep … but also a group sleeping OK or better than before, to do with the fact they can sleep to their own schedule now they don’t have to get up for an early commute,” Dr Jackson said.

More than two out of five respondents said their sleep-wake pattern was “more consistent with their body clock now”. Dr Jackson’s research is a collaboration with the Sleep Health Foundation, which has also noted Australians’ sleep being affected by COVID-19.

Foundation psychologist, Moira Junge, said some of her insomnia patients were doing better but other people were seeking help with sleep problems for the first time.

“They’re reporting that they’ve been really ‘naughty’, not keeping a regular schedule … and that disruption to routine plus a lot of stress, means they’re finding themselves in this state of not being able to sleep when they think they should,” Dr Junge said.

Professor Amy Jordan, director of the Sleep Laboratory at the University of Melbourne, said different stressors or lack of them, were causing different impacts on Australians’ sleep.

“People working were having worse sleep particularly in the early phase (of COVID-19) due to a lot of anxiety and worry … anxiety is worse for sleep. My gut feeling is that’s the big reason why on the whole people are sleeping worse, even if it’s not diagnosed anxiety,” Professor Jordan said.

“The reason why some are sleeping better is they might be getting more time to exercise or are able to sleep in a schedule that suits them better. Some are staying up working until 12 o’clock in the morning and then sleeping in. If they’re night owls it suits them.”

Some COVID-disrupted sleepers report feeling comforted to learn they are not alone. Rosary Coloma began having vivid dreams and trouble sleeping during lockdown.

Ms Coloma, from Abbotsford in Sydney, said worry about being self-employed during an economic downturn had prompted insomnia that comes in waves.

“Some nights I sleep fine, other nights I can’t sleep at all,” Ms Coloma said. “It always catches me by surprise because I didn’t think I was necessarily that stressed during the day.”

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She has experienced vivid dreams tinged with anxiety and can wake up feeling short of breath.

Delwyn Bartlett, clinical associate professor at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, said the phenomenon of vivid dreams was partly because of a change in sleeping patterns and partly a response to stress.

Separately, postgraduate students at the Psychoanalysis Unit within University College London have started a project called Lockdown Dreams and hundreds of people from around the world have submitted descriptions of their dreams through the website.

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