According to a new study done by experts at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, more than half of nurses reported trouble sleeping during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic and having less sleep increased their chances of experiencing worry and sadness.
«Because of the stress of patient care and the nature of shift work, nurses are already at risk for higher rates of depression and insufficient sleep than other professions. The epidemic appears to have aggravated these problems, putting nurses’ health at risk «Amy Witkoski Stimpfel, Ph.D., RN, assistant professor at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and research lead author, said.
Nurses operating on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic have experienced unprecedented hurdles, including staffing shortages, an early lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and witnessing severe suffering and death. The influence of these continuing stressors on nurses’ mental health and well-being is beginning to be shown through research.
From June to August 2020, the researchers surveyed 629 nurses and interviewed 34 of them for this study. The nurses were questioned about their experiences working during the first six months of the epidemic in the United States. They worked in a variety of healthcare settings across 18 states.
Nurses have high rates of depression (22%), anxiety (52%), and insomnia (55%), according to the report. Sleep problems were found to be both a contributing factor and a result of poor mental health.
Depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness were all raised when people only slept for five hours or fewer before a shift. Nurses, on the other hand, noted how anxiousness and thinking about stressful work conditions—understaffing, being reassigned to a COVID unit, a shortage of PPE, and a high number of patient deaths—made it difficult to fall asleep and get up at night. Nurses got fewer hours of sleep due to changes in their work schedules, such as working extra hours or abruptly switching between day and night shifts, in addition to stress-related sleep issues.
«We discovered that sleep issues were linked to anxiety and depression symptoms,» Witkoski Stimpfel remarked. «This bidirectional association between sleep and mental health has been proven in the past. We know that having enough sleep promotes mental and emotional resilience, but not getting enough sleep causes negative thinking and emotional vulnerability in the brain.»
The researchers recommend that companies take steps to address work stress and factors that affect sleep in order to better assist nurses and their well-being. Employers can give stress management training and referrals to mental healthcare specialists for individuals in need, in addition to ensuring that nurses have the resources they need to conduct their work properly, such as staffing, beds, and PPE.
Employers should also pay attention to scheduling, ensuring that nurses get time off, safeguarding them from excessive overtime hours and shifts that swing between day and night, and providing flexible work arrangements.
«Our findings not only help us better understand the challenges that nurses face—and why some nurses are quitting their employment or the industry entirely—but they also indicate opportunities for hospitals and other employers to support this vital workforce,» Witkoski Stimpfel added.
Lloyd Goldsamt and Victoria Vaughan Dickson of NYU Meyers and Lauren Ghazal of the University of Michigan are among the study’s other authors.