University of São Paulo: Research reveals increase in insomnia among health professionals during the pandemic

With the covid-19 pandemic, the workload faced by health professionals raises concerns about the physical and mental health of these professionals. A study developed by researchers from the USP School of Medicine (FMUSP) and the USP School of Public Health (FSP) analyzed 4,384 health professionals and revealed that 41.4% of them had new complaints of insomnia or worsening of this condition during the pandemic. The study also noted a 13% increase in the number of drug treatments for insomnia among professionals.

The results of the study, whose main author is Professor Luciano Drager, from FMUSP, were published in September 2020, in a preprint version (without peer review), on the medRxiv platform.

The research was cross-sectional, that is, the data were obtained through a single information, in this case, by applying an online questionnaire in June 2020, covering all regions, carried out by the Brazilian Association of Medicine of the Sleep (ABMS). Participants were on average 44 years old, 76% were women and 53.8% or medical doctors, among nurses, nutritionists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychologists etc . Among them, 55.7% were working in the care of patients with covid-19 and 9.2% reported having a case of virus infection.

Participants were asked about their health status, with emphasis on sleep disorders, anxiety and stress due to physical and mental exhaustion at work, a chronic condition better known as Burnout syndrome. “Our interest was to verify the prevalence of insomnia, anxiety and B urnou t in health professionals with the result of the pandemic scenario,” says Claudia Moreno, co-author of the study, professor of FSP and vice president of the ABMS.

“The results show that health professionals were already suffering from the effects of the pandemic after a few months of work, which means that today, a year later, the situation must be aggravated”, says Claudia Moreno.

Among the interviewees, 1,817 (41.4%) reported new complaints of insomnia or worsening of the condition they already had, in parallel; 572 (13%) reported starting new treatments using medication for insomnia.

“Not meeting the need for sleep has short, medium and long-term effects on health”, says the researcher. According to her, adequate sleep, both in terms of its duration and when it is performed, is a physiological need of the body. One day a doctor is sleep deprived is enough to generate mood swings and headaches. Symptoms worsen in cases of chronic sleep deprivation. “In these cases, more serious health problems can occur, such as gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, mental health disorders, among others”, he completes.

The data showed that, during the pandemic, anxiety prevailed in 44.2% of respondents and Burnout in 21% of them. Some factors proved to be “protective” for new complaints and worsening of insomnia, such as increased income; be a psychologist or physiotherapist (in relation to administrative work); attend in an office or clinic and have had an increase in working hours. The explanation for the latter may lie in the rapid falling asleep due to the reduction in sleep itself and its quality, generated by the increase in the journey. “As people sleep less and worse, when they lie down to sleep, they have a short period of sleep — what could be identified by them as the absence of insomnia, something like ‘I fall into bed and fall asleep right away’”, explains Claudia, who emphasizes the need for more studies on this relationship.

Other factors were identified as risk factors. Among them are reduced income, weight changes, development of Burnout syndrome, attending or having already treated patients with covid-19, anxiety and being a woman. The scientist explains that it is likely that women are more likely to suffer from insomnia and burnout because they are responsible, in most cases, for taking care of household chores, which implies a double work shift.

The research considers that insomnia can have a negative impact on the work performance of health professionals, in addition to the long-term dependence on pharmacological treatments. According to the researcher, without changes in the conditions to which these workers are exposed, medical errors and care errors in patient care, in addition to the possibility of developing and worsening health problems, can be expected. “The results show that health professionals were already suffering from the effects of the pandemic after a few months of work, which means that today, a year later, the situation must be aggravated”, he adds.

The urgency of programs dedicated to sleep and mental health for professionals working in the health area is also pointed out. “It is necessary to assess the workload of these professionals, in order to give them time to rest and recover”, says Claudia.

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