Sentiment Analysis of Insomnia-Related Tweets via a Combination of Transformers Using Dempster-Shafer Theory: Pre- and Peri-COVID-19 Pandemic Retrospective Study

J Med Internet Res. 2022 Dec 27;24(12):e41517. doi: 10.2196/41517.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed additional stress on population health that may result in a change of sleeping behavior.

Objective: In this study, we hypothesized that using natural language processing to explore social media would help with assessing the mental health conditions of people experiencing insomnia after the outbreak of COVID-19.

Methods: We designed a retrospective study that used public social media content from Twitter. We categorized insomnia-related tweets based on time, using the following two intervals: the prepandemic (January 1, 2019, to January 1, 2020) and peripandemic (January 1, 2020, to January 1, 2021) intervals. We performed a sentiment analysis by using pretrained transformers in conjunction with Dempster-Shafer theory (DST) to classify the polarity of emotions as positive, negative, and neutral. We validated the proposed pipeline on 300 annotated tweets. Additionally, we performed a temporal analysis to examine the effect of time on Twitter users' insomnia experiences, using logistic regression.

Results: We extracted 305,321 tweets containing the word insomnia (prepandemic tweets: n=139,561; peripandemic tweets: n=165,760). The best combination of pretrained transformers (combined via DST) yielded 84% accuracy. By using this pipeline, we found that the odds of posting negative tweets (odds ratio [OR] 1.39, 95% CI 1.37-1.41; P<.001) were higher in the peripandemic interval compared to those in the prepandemic interval. The likelihood of posting negative tweets after midnight was 21% higher than that before midnight (OR 1.21, 95% CI 1.19-1.23; P<.001). In the prepandemic interval, while the odds of posting negative tweets were 2% higher after midnight compared to those before midnight (OR 1.02, 95% CI 1.00-1.07; P=.008), they were 43% higher (OR 1.43, 95% CI 1.40-1.46; P<.001) in the peripandemic interval.

Conclusions: The proposed novel sentiment analysis pipeline, which combines pretrained transformers via DST, is capable of classifying the emotions and sentiments of insomnia-related tweets. Twitter users shared more negative tweets about insomnia in the peripandemic interval than in the prepandemic interval. Future studies using a natural language processing framework could assess tweets about other types of psychological distress, habit changes, weight gain resulting from inactivity, and the effect of viral infection on sleep.

Keywords: COVID-19; Dempster-Shafer theory; Twitter; coronavirus; effect; natural language processing; pandemic; sentiment analysis; sleep; sleeping; social media; transformers; viral infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sentiment Analysis
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Social Media*