VUB studies impact of second lockdown on sleep

VUB studies impact of second lockdown on sleep

Fourfold increase in insomnia complaints – Skin hunger and Corona fatigue increase risk of complaints

An international survey on sleep by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Brugmann Sleep Laboratory last year showed that the first lockdown had a negative impact on our sleep, with, among other things, a threefold increase in the number of insomnia complaints. The researchers then set up a large-scale follow-up study in Belgium. The results of this follow-up study, in which 3,224 people took part, show that insomnia complaints continue to rise. Prof Olivier Mairesse: “The number of people with insomnia complaints is increasing. 29% of participants reported moderate to severe symptoms, compared to 19% during the first lockdown. That represents an almost fourfold increase from 7-8% before the pandemic.”

Sleep has changed

In general, during the second wave, respondents are again going later to bed and getting up later. Participants are sleeping less overall, taking longer to fall asleep, having more trouble maintaining sleep and waking up more easily. Sleep satisfaction decreased and more bad dreams were reported. Participants also reported being sleepier during the day and needing more mental and physical rest. Mairesse: “Almost everyone has a slightly disturbed sleep pattern. Students in particular go to bed later and get up later. As far as sleep duration is concerned, it is the active population, aged 25-64, that has lost the most sleep, with self-employed people in the lead. And while most report having difficulties maintaining sleep to some extent, these are least present among participants with contact-based professions but implying low risk of infection, and participants aged 65 or more.”

Fed up of Corona?

The study shows that the best predictor for developing insomnia complaints is reporting depressive symptoms related to the lockdown measures – including sadness, irritability, tension and lack of motivation – but stress due to the risk of infection also increases the odds of developing insomnia.

Contact-based professions and insomnia

People who have a contact job with a potentially high risk of contamination have a increased odds of developing insomnia complaints compared to, for example, teleworkers, students, the self-employed, pensioners and people with a contact-based profession but a low risk of contamination.

Lack of contact

In general, participants report less satisfaction with their relational lifestyle during lockdown. The need for physical contact with family, relatives or partners is similar to the time before the COVID crisis, but people would like to be able to see their relatives more in real life and not just online. Surprisingly, participants indicate they have less need for physical contact with people outside their family circle. Younger participants show the highest cravings for physical contact. Among older participants, it remains stable or has even decreased since the second lockdown began. Mairesse: “We were also able to establish a link between skin hunger -the longing for physical connection- and sleep problems. Those with a greater need for physical contact in normal circumstances, be it with family, a partner or friends or colleagues, are more likely to develop insomnia symptoms because of lockdown.”

The research is a collaboration between the VUB-ULB Brugmann Hospital (Clara Colomb, neuropsychologist, Dr Johan Newell, head of unit, Prof Martine Van Puyvelde, Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences). Prof Mairesse is affiliated with both institutions.


Olivier Mairesse

[email protected]

0478 42 07 18


Description of respondents (more information in added factsheet)

3,224 participants - 68% women - 19% single



0-24      16.0%

25-44    44.9%

45-64    33.6%

65+        5.5%



Jobseeker                                                                             2.0%

In temporary lay-off (including imposed quarantine)                   3.2%

Invalidity/sickness (including because of Covid-19)                   3.0%

Teleworking                                                                           23.3%

Student                                                                                 15.1%

Retired                                                                                  5.3%

Contact job (with a potentially high risk of contamination)          29.5%

Contact job (with potentially lower risk of contamination)          5.1%

Self-employed and other                                                          13.6%


Covid diagnosis

Positive              7.6% (202)

Negative             36%c (951)

Not tested         56.4% (1,490)

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