U-M researchers develop app to track sleep patterns during COVID-19 lockdowns

‘(Coronavirus) presented the biggest global change in circadian rhythms of our lifetime,’ one researcher said

Alarm clock. (Pixabay)

ANN ARBOR – According to researchers at the University of Michigan, COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have impacted much more than our social lives - they have impacted our sleep patterns as well.

The research team developed the free Social Rhythms iOS app to help users understand their own sleep rhythms and give tips on how to maximize sleep during extended periods of quarantine.

Scientists are hoping that data generated by the app could shed light on lockdowns and circadian rhythms -- our internal clocks that regulate everything from sleep and wake time to eating and digestion. Disruption of these clocks results in a weakened immune system and other ill effects.

“During social distancing, lockdown or quarantine, many of the key signals which tell our body what time it is, such as access to outdoor light, are blocked," Daniel Forger, U-M professor of mathematics said in a statement. “Additionally, many signals which confuse our internal clocks, such as light from screens, have skyrocketed.

“Some adults may also have their circadian timekeeping disrupted while caring for other individuals -- young children -- whose biological clocks run very differently.”

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In contrast, individuals who worked night shifts prior to the pandemic could benefit from an improved circadian rhythm.

“In short, many of us may be experiencing circadian disruption which could lead to fatigue, mood changes, changes in sleep patterns and decreased immune function,” Forger added.

Users are asked to answer simple demographic questions on the app and then upload data from their devices, including phones, FitBits, Apple Watches and MiBands.

The data is then analyzed by algorithms on the group’s servers and a report is generated for each individual. Graphics show the user whether his or her biological timekeeping has changed and points out irregularities in habits.

“What also is very unhealthy is some people are going to bed at 2 a.m. one day and then 8 p.m. the next day and midnight the next day,” Forger said in a statement. “You’ll be notified if your rhythm becomes more irregular or if it shifts later.”

Participants can delete their data at any time, which will be stripped of identifying information for the researchers’ database.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.