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Poor sleep another obstacle for nurses amid pandemic: survey

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New York — More than half of nurses in a recent survey say they had trouble sleeping during the first six month of the COVID-19 pandemic – a risk factor for increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

Researchers from the New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing surveyed 629 nurses and interviewed 34 more between June and August 2020. The respondents, who worked in various health care settings in 18 states, answered questions about their on-the-job experiences and sleep habits amid the first six months of the pandemic.

A majority of the nurses reported experiencing insomnia (55%) and anxiety (52%), while 22% said they had experienced depression. “Notably, difficulty sleeping was both a contributing factor to and an outcome of poor mental health,” an NYU press release states.

The nurses who slept less than five hours before their shifts had increased odds of insomnia, anxiety and depression. Overall, anxiety and thinking about stressful working conditions – such as numerous patient deaths, lack of personal protective equipment, understaffing and being redeployed to a COVID-19 unit – led to difficulty falling and staying asleep at night.

The nurses also indicated that they got fewer hours of sleep when their work schedules were either expanded to include overtime or abruptly switched between day and night shifts.

“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,” lead study author Amy Witkoski Stimpfel, an assistant nursing professor at NYU, said in the release.

 

The researchers urge health care employers to ensure nurses have appropriate resources such as proper PPE, staffing levels and bed counts so they can do their jobs effectively, as well as offer stress management training and provide referrals to mental health professionals for nurses in need. Additionally, employers should be mindful of scheduling, making sure their nurses have time away from work, don’t have excessive overtime hours, have flexible work arrangements, and don’t work shifts that abruptly switch between day and night.

Results of the survey were published Jan. 25 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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