Insomnia amongst well being care employees worsened throughout the pandemic

According to a recent study of the association between sleep quality and psychological distress of health workers in New York City during the pandemic, health care workers who do not sleep well are twice as likely to report symptoms of as their more rested counterparts.

The study, conducted by a group of Columbia University researchers and recently published in the Journal of Affective , also found that people with insomnia were 50% more likely to report psychological distress and 70% more likely to report anxiety.

That set of problems could exacerbate the pandemic-created crisis that is already affecting healthcare workers, according to lead researcher Marwah Abdalla, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

“Right now, a large percentage of health workers are quitting their jobs because of the stress, leading to a shortage of health workers across the country,” said Abdalla. “With fewer workers on duty, the remaining workers have to work longer and longer shifts, making their sleep problems and stress worse.”

The Columbia Group conducted a series of surveys to assess their peers’ sleeping habits and psychological symptoms during the first peak of the pandemic in New York City. The data showed that over 70% of healthcare workers reported having at least moderate insomnia. Although that number fell as the number of COVID cases declined, nearly four in ten ten weeks after the initial survey, when the first wave of COVID had passed and work schedules had returned to somewhat normal levels, were still suffering from insomnia.

“We know that lack of sleep affects the quality of care for our patients and can increase medical errors, but it can also trigger symptoms of and anxiety,” said Abdalla.

After a subsequent in-depth study and follow-up, the researchers found that healthcare workers who reported poor sleep also reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than healthcare workers who slept better.

Italians are worse off than European colleagues

In Italy the situation is no different. A recent study found that Italian doctors had more stress-related problems than some of their counterparts in other European countries.

“There are no specific studies on insomnia from Italian doctors, but many colleagues have turned to our center to address severe insomnia symptoms that have worsened over the past 2 years,” said Dr. Luigi Ferini Strambi, Chief Physician of the Sleep Clinic at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan.

“Early intervention is imperative; this way we can prevent these types of problems from affecting the focus required to deal with emergency situations, ”he added.

It’s hardly new that healthcare workers were under immense stress during the COVID-19 pandemic; poor sleep quality is an age-old problem for medical professionals, at least in Italy. A 2015 survey of 2,000 new doctors conducted by the National Association for Hospital Aides and Assistants found that doctors who were unwell most often attributed their malaise to insomnia. This was especially true of those who worked in hospitals.

Countermeasures and wake-up calls

Although stress, anxiety, and depression can occur in well-rested individuals, “sleep is essential to mental health,” said Abdalla. “While we don’t know from this study whether mental stress itself resulted in poor sleep or whether poor sleep resulted in mental stress in these health workers, improving sleep can reduce mental health problems and vice versa, and this is especially important for doctors.”

Recommended interventions range from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, to extending rest time during breaks, to installing naps in workplaces – especially in hospitals – for staff that can be used during long shifts.

“If you are overwhelmed by work, it helps to lie down for only 20 or 30 minutes,” write Abdalla and her colleagues.

“Previous research has shown that sleep increase the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia and cancer,” said Abdalla. “If you have trouble sleeping, let this be a wake-up call.”

This article originally appeared on Medscape’s Univadis.

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