The impact of stress experienced by healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic is much higher than previously thought. Research published in April in Frontiers in Psychiatry underscores the importance of developing a process of intervening to address insomnia experienced by medical staff during periods of significant psychological distress, such as during the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

Chenxi Zhang, doctorate student and research assistant affiliated with the Second Xiangya Hospital, Central South University Changsha, China, and colleagues from Nanfang Hospital at the Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, examined the rate of insomnia and other psychological factors reported among hospital medical staff treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research team identified front-line and other medical staff and administered a self-designed  questionnaire to obtain reports of insomnia, anxiety, depression and other stress-related symptoms as well as demographic information from the subjects. The team studied the associations between insomnia and sociodemographic factors using a logistic regression analysis.   

The researchers reported that 36% (n = 564) of 1,563 subjects included in the study reported symptoms of insomnia, achieving a total score of ≥8 on the Insomnia Severity Index. They further report that insomnia symptoms were associated with being a physician (odds ratio [OR] 0.44, P = .007, 95% CI, 0.2-0.8), working in an isolation unit (OR 1.71, P = .038, 95% CI, 1.0-2.8), reporting fear of becoming infected (OR 2.30, P <.001, 95% CI, 1.6-3.4), and having expressed “very strong uncertainty regarding effective disease control”  (OR 3.30, P = .013, 95% CI, 1.3-8.5). 

In addition, insomnia symptoms were associated with other factors, such education level of high school or below and perceived lack of psychological support from news or social media relative to COVID-19 (OR, 2.69, P = .042, 95% CI, 1.0-7.0 and OR, 2.10, P = .001, 95% CI, 1.3-3.3, respectively).

“Our findings can help provide precise interventions of insomnia for medical staff, especially for those with different sociopsychological risk factors,” the authors wrote, adding, “Understanding the problems found in the insomnia group can help hospital administrations with effective mental health education and training among medical staff.”

The authors concluded “Our study found that more than one-third of the medical staff suffered insomnia symptoms during the COVID-19 outbreak. The related factors included education level, an isolation environment, psychological worries about the COVID-19 outbreak, and being a doctor. Interventions for insomnia among medical staff are needed considering the various sociopsychological factors at play in this situation.”

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