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Insomnia struck China's healthcare workers during COVID-19 outbreak

During the COVID-19 epidemic in China, at least one-third of healthcare workers suffered from insomnia, according to a study published by Frontiers. The researchers found that sleeplessness made members of the medical staff more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and stress-based trauma.

By Monday evening, more than two million cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed worldwide. The new research emphasizes the fact that the disease is not just a physical threat, but is also taking a toll on mental health. 

Study co-author Dr. Bin Zhang is a professor at Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China.

“Typically, stress-related insomnia is transient and persists for only a few days,” said Dr. Zhang. “But if the COVID-19 outbreak continues, the insomnia may gradually become chronic insomnia in the clinical setting.”

The investigation was focused on a series of online questionnaires conducted at the peak of the COVID-19 epidemic in China between January 29 and February 3. The researchers used the WeChat social media platform to collect information from more than 1,5oo participants who work in the medical field.

Symptoms of insomnia were reported by 564 individuals, or 36.1 percent of respondents. The study authors found that this rate is consistent with previous research which examined the psychological effects of the 2003 SARS outbreak. At that time, an estimated 37 percent of nurses who worked with SARS patients experienced insomnia.

In the current study, healthcare workers who suffered from insomnia were 56.1 percent more likely to experience depression compared to medical staff members without insomnia. The statistics regarding anxiety and trauma were similar.

The team also identified other factors that were correlated with insomnia.

“The most important factor was having very strong uncertainty regarding effective disease control among medical staff,” said Dr. Zhang. Strong uncertainty was 3.3 times higher among those who were experiencing insomnia.

The study authors pointed out that healthcare workers were under incredible stress regardless of their sleeping patterns. The medical staff was in close contact with infected patients, causing major concerns about becoming infected and passing the virus along to family and friends. The healthcare workers had to wear a full array of personal protective equipment (PPE) for at least 12 hours at a time, and often endured the long shifts without a break. 

“Under these dangerous conditions, medical staff become mentally and physically exhausted, and therefore experience an increased risk of insomnia due to high stress,” explained the researchers..

“A longitudinal study to track the changes of insomnia symptoms is needed among medical staff, especially when the death of medical staff during COVID-19 will be officially announced and updated.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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