Drained: Study Shows the Toll of Poor Sleep Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic Among Health Workers

Two new studies conducted by Columbia researchers highlight the immense toll the COVID-19 pandemic has held on health care workers’ sleep patterns and mental health. The findings were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“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,” says the studies’ lead author Marwah Abdalla, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons via a press release. “With fewer workers on the job, the remaining staff must work more and longer shifts, exacerbating their sleep problems and stress.”

In the first study, Dr. Abdalla and her colleagues conducted surveys of health care workers’ sleeping habits and psychological symptoms during the pandemic’s first peak in New York City. The study, published in August, showed that at least 70% of health care workers had at least moderate insomnia symptoms during COVID’s initial peak. While that number declined as COVID case cunts dropped, the results showed that four in 10 health care workers still suffered from insomnia symptoms 10 weeks later when the first round was over and work schedules had returned to normal. “We know that lack of sleep degrades quality of care for our patients and can increase medical errors,” says Dr. Abdalla.

 

In the second study, the investigators found that health care workers suffering from insomnia also reported increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression compared to their counterparts who got sufficient sleep. “Sleep is essential to mental health and there is a bidirectional relationship,” Dr. Abdalla says. “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.”