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Mental Health

Podcast 129: How Sleep Affected Mental Health During COVID-19

June 29, 2021

On this week’s podcast we detail the findings of an important WHOOP research effort we first told you about a year ago: The COVID Resilience Project.

By Will Ahmed

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You may remember an episode we did last June on the COVID Resilience Project. We collaborated with leading scientists at Harvard, Austin Health, and Australia’s Monash University to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our members’ physical and mental health.

What we found was truly eye-opening. This research showed just how important sleep is to your mental health.

  • Those who slept sufficiently before the pandemic were less likely to experience a mental health decline, even if they slept less during the pandemic.
  • And we’re not just talking about getting enough sleep, we also found that sleep consistency (going to bed and waking up at similar times each day) was a better predictor of mental health resilience during the pandemic than sleep duration.

More people are dealing with mental health challenges than before, with adults in America reporting 3 to 4 times the prevalence of anxiety and depression symptoms in these times. We’ve linked to a variety of mental health resources below.

WHOOP VP of Data Science and Research Emily Capodilupo sits down with Mark Czeisler of the COPE Initiative to discuss these findings. The COPE Initiative is a project monitoring the mental and behavioral health aspects of the pandemic.

Stay healthy and stay in the green!


Sleep and Mental Health Podcast Notes and Highlights

4:07 – The COVID Resilience Project. Last year, WHOOP teamed up with researchers from around the world to study the effects the pandemic had on sleep, mental health, and social factors. Listen to Episode 79 of the WHOOP Podcast to learn more.

5:35 – Mental Health and COVID-19. “We found that there had been considerably elevated levels of adverse mental health symptoms observed among [American] adults, including 3 to 4 times the prevalence of anxiety and depression symptoms, elevated substance use to cope with stress or emotions, and also 2 times higher prevalence of suicidal ideations. [It is] concerning from a public health perspective.”

7:44 – Why WHOOP to Study COVID-19? “What’s great about WHOOP is that there is data in a lot of people that extends back to before the onset of the stay-at-home orders and a lot of what was happening during the pandemic. That’s very powerful because it allows for the analysis to include a comparison to baseline, which is missing in a lot of the COVID-19 research that has been happening.”

8:10 – Changing Behaviors During the Pandemic. Read more about WHOOP research from March of 2020 that measured how behaviors changed after the pandemic began.

10:00 – Studying Sleep and Resilience. The COVID Resilience Project study found that those who slept sufficiently before the pandemic were less likely to experience a mental health decline, while sleep consistency served as a better predictor of mental health resilience during the pandemic than sleep duration.

11:01 – Getting More Sleep During Lockdown. “We found that there was a dramatic increase in sleep duration during [the early days of the pandemic], about 15 minutes mean increase per night.” Mark says. ‘It may not sound [significant] but over the course of a week that’s nearly two hours [more of sleep]. It adds up.”

13:35 – More Time in Bed and More Sleep. The study found that people spent more time in bed following stay-at-home orders early in the pandemic, which translated to more sleep.

14:09 – Shifting Bedtimes. The average bedtime of WHOOP members shifted from 10:50 PM to 11:10 PM when the pandemic started, with the average wake time occurring 36 minutes later than before the pandemic. “People had the ability to self-select their bedtimes a little bit more and their worktimes,” Mark says. “If we shifted the 9 to 5 to a 10 to 6 … you might actually be catering to people’s innate preferences better than this current default 9 to 5, which the data seems to suggest is actually physiologically misaligned with natural preferences,” Emily adds.

Understanding Circadian Rhythm & Benefits of Maintaining It with Sleep Consistency

17:15 – Sleep Consistency. Check out WHOOP research detailing how sleep consistency leads to better sleep quality.

18:16 – Mental Health and Sleep. “We found that people who had persistently short sleep duration or low sleep consistency had higher odds of adverse mental health symptoms,” Mark says.

18:49 – Sleep Duration and Mental Health. “People [who slept less than 6 hours a night] had 1.8 times the odds of anxiety or depression symptoms and 1.6 times of burnout symptoms compared to [those who slept more than 7 hours per night].”

19:17 – Sleep Consistency and Mental Health. Participants with a sleep consistency under 70% had 1.7 times the odds of anxiety or depression symptoms and 1.8 times the odds of experiencing burnout. They were also 2 times more likely to turn to substances to cope with the pandemic.

20:39 – Mental Health Pandemic. Mark notes that in any given year, an estimated 18% of American adults suffer from a mental health condition. “Even before the pandemic, the lost productivity as a result of anxiety and depression alone cost the global economy a trillion dollars per year.”

22:47 – Mental Health Support Links.

24:25 – The COPE Initiative. Learn more about the COPE Initiative and its mission.


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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.