More work, less sleep: How life under lockdown had changed one year on

Britons were spending more time working and less time sleeping one year into the UK’s coronavirus lockdown than they were when restrictions were first introduced, a survey suggests.

Time spent watching television or playing computer games also fell, but more time was passed travelling, socialising or shopping – reflecting the slight easing of restrictions that had happened by the spring of this year.

The figures have been compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and are based on a survey of the same group of adults conducted in the weeks immediately following the start of the first lockdown in March 2020, and again at the end of March 2021.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

How people spent their time “changed substantially” between these two periods, the ONS said, with the average adult spending 23 minutes less on sleeping – returning to similar levels reported before the pandemic began – eight minutes less on computer games or watching TV, and four minutes less on eating.

Less time was also spent reading, playing with or helping children with homework, which is “likely to reflect the reopening of schools”, while parents spent 30 minutes less on childcare overall.

By contrast, the amount of time spent working from home was found to have increased by 18 minutes, though this rise was only for men – who saw an increase of 36 minutes – compared with no significant change for women.

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Men also increased their time spent on unpaid household work to levels not seen since the first lockdown, but the gender gap in unpaid household work “remained persistently high”, with women doing over 40% more than men at over three hours on average per day.

Restrictions on meeting other people had slightly eased one year from the first lockdown, the ONS noted, with socialising with others now limited to meeting one person outside – for example, having a coffee on a bench together in England.

This led to people “spending more time outside, whether travelling, socialising or shopping”.

By the end of March 2021 the average adult was spending an extra 17 minutes a day travelling – excluding walking – compared with the previous year, and an extra nine minutes per day shopping or doing errands.

Overall there were no substantial differences in the change in behaviour between those who had and had not received a dose of Covid-19 vaccine, the ONS found.

Regardless of vaccine status, by March 2021 people had switched to spending more time on activities outside the home – such as travelling, volunteering and socialising in person – and less time on indoor entertainment, such as watching TV and virtual socialising.

Figures for time spent working did show a “big difference”, however.

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People who had not received a vaccine by the end of March 2021 were working roughly an extra hour per day, while there was “virtually no change” among those who had been vaccinated.

The differences are likely explained by the kind of jobs both groups worked in, the ONS said – for example, healthcare professionals, who were extremely busy in the first lockdown, had mostly received at least one vaccine dose by the end of March this year.

By contrast, those without a vaccine “were much more likely to include professions like teachers, who could not work as much during the first lockdown”.

The extra working time among non-vaccinated groups was also likely to have affected their sleep patterns, with these individuals sleeping on average 35 minutes less than a year ago, compared with “no significant change” for those who were vaccinated.

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