Nurses struggle with quality sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic, study finds

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Difficulties with sleep were associated with a higher risk of mental health concerns

A new study conducted by researchers from New York University explored another way that nurses have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to their findings, nurses have been more likely to struggle with quality sleep over the course of the pandemic; experts say this lack of sleep increases the risk for mental health concerns. 

“Nurses are already at risk for higher rates of depression and insufficient sleep compared to other professions, thanks to the stress of patient care and the nature of shift work,” said researcher Dr. Amy Witkoski Stimpfel. “The pandemic seems to have further exacerbated these issues to the detriment of nurses’ well-being.” 

Mental health risks related to poor sleep

The researchers had a group of nearly 700 nurses involved in the study. Some participants were surveyed about their time working in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic; others were interviewed about their experiences. 

The researchers learned that the nurses were deeply impacted by their time working on the front lines during the pandemic. Difficulties with sleep proved to be a significant issue, as 55% of the group reported issues with insomnia in the early months of the pandemic. The study showed that these symptoms were likely to increase the risk of mental health issues.

The researchers learned that mental health struggles and sleeping difficulties were closely linked for many of the nurses in the study. Overall, anxiety affected more than 50% of the nurses involved in the study. Many of the stressors related to their jobs during the pandemic, which ranged from a lack of proper protective equipment to general staffing issues, contributed to frequently waking up in the middle of the night or struggles with falling asleep. 

“We found that sleep problems were interwoven with anxiety and depressive symptoms,” said Dr. Witkoski Stimpfel. “Prior research supports this bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health. We know that getting sufficient sleep fosters mental and emotional resilience, while not getting enough sleep predisposes the brain to negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.” 

As nurses continue to experience high levels of stress that are related to the pandemic, the researchers hope these findings encourage hospitals to prioritize the mental health and well-being of their staff. 

“Our findings help us better understand the difficulty nurses are facing – and why some nurses are leaving their jobs or the field altogether – but also reveal opportunities for hospitals and other employers to support this critical workforce,” said Dr. Witkoski Stimpfel.

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