Healthcare workers with poor sleep more likely to report depression; Study

By Shilpa Annie Joseph, Desk Reporter
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According to a new study, healthcare workers with poor sleep were twice more likely to report symptoms of depression than their better-rested colleagues.

Healthcare workers with poor sleep were 50 percent more likely to report psychological distress and 70 percent more likely to report anxiety, the report said. The study was published in the ‘International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health’.

“Right now, a large percentage of health care workers are leaving their jobs because of the stress, producing a shortage of health care workers nationally. With fewer workers on the job, the remaining staff must work more and longer shifts, exacerbating their sleep problems and stress,” said Dr. Marwah Abdalla, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and lead author of the study.

During the pandemic’s first peak in New York City, Dr. Abdalla and her colleagues conducted a series of surveys of health care workers’ sleep habits and psychological symptoms. The group’s first publication, released in August, summarized the sleep data, revealing that during the pandemic’s first peak, more than 70 percent of healthcare workers had at least moderate insomnia symptoms.

Dr. Abdalla noted, “We know that lack of sleep degrades the quality of care for our patients and can increase medical errors. Poor sleep not only affects patient care but also may trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety.”

In the second study, the researchers discovered that health care workers who reported poor sleep also reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and sadness than those who slept better.

“Although stress, anxiety, and depression can arise among well-rested individuals, sleep is essential to mental health and there is a bidirectional relationship. While we don’t know from this study if psychological distress itself caused poor sleep or if poor sleep resulted in psychological distress among these health care workers, improving sleep can reduce psychological problems and vice versa,” Dr. Abdalla explained.

She added that “if future studies can tease apart the direction of this relationship and the impact of poor sleep on mental health for health care workers during the pandemic, there may be several potential interventions, from cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia to increasing break room rest areas, and/or installing nap pods for hospital staff to use during long shifts.”

“For people who might be sleep-deprived, encourage them to go and lie down for 20 minutes or 30 minutes,” remarked Dr. Abdalla. Improved sleep won’t eliminate all of the extra stress that healthcare employees endure, but it can help them feel better mentally and physically.

“Previous research has shown that sleep trouble increases your risk for chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and cancer. If you have trouble sleeping, let this be a wake-up call,” Dr. Abdalla concluded.

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