Assessing Sleep Attributes Among Health Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

September 25, 2020

Health workers providing care on the front lines of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic were found to develop more sleep disturbances and have worse quality of sleep compared with non-health care professionals.

Health workers providing care on the front lines of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic were found to develop more sleep disturbances and have worse quality of sleep compared with non–health care professionals, according to study findings published in Sleep Medicine.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been several reports of a growing mental health crisis. In a recent poll by Lyra Health and the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, more than 80% of US workers stated that they are experiencing mental health issues.

These findings could have significant implications for the development of sleep disorders, particularly insomnia, as researchers note that these disorders are associated with exposure to different stressors. Moreover, this risk could be further exacerbated among health care workers who are on the front lines of this unprecedented pandemic.

“This pandemic has caused great social struggle, testing the performance of different global health systems,” note the researchers. “Health workers have been placed under enormous care pressure and potential traumatic exposure that might have consequences on their health.”

They sought to assess sleep quality and the development of sleep disorders in health personnel directly dedicated to the care of patients with COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic. Examining health care workers (N = 100) from Hospital Universitario 12 de Octubre in Madrid, Spain, the researchers conducted a cross-sectional, anonymized, self-reported questionnaire survey during the outbreak of COVID-19 from March 1 to April 30, 2020.

Along with health care workers, non–health care workers (N = 70) were also assessed. The questionnaire included demographic data, sleep-related aspects, and measurements of the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), Insomnia Severity Index, and 17-items Hamilton Rating Scale.

Among health care workers, self-reported insomnia, nightmares, sleepwalking, sleep terrors, and a PSQI > 6, indicating worse sleep quality, was reported (P < .05). Additionally, shift workers responding to the pandemic were seen to be at greater risk following multiple logistic regression analysis.

In citing potential reasons for the differences observed between health care and non–health care workers, the researchers highlighted “the uncertainty surrounding this new virus, lack of adequate protection material and training, the long-term workload, risk of contagion and endangering family members or housing partners, confronting dramatic situations such as the death of many patients in isolation, and lack of physical and psychological rest in an information overload society.”

They conclude that concrete protection and prevention measures for an exposed population like health care workers should be considered in pandemic situations.

Reference

San Martin AH, Serrano JP, Cambriles TD, et al. Sleep characteristics in health workers exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sleep Med. Published online August 17, 2020. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2020.08.013