Beijing - The novel coronavirus that has infected more than 1.9 million people globally is not just a physical health threat as researchers have found that more than a third of medical staff responding to the outbreak during its peak in China suffered from insomnia.
According to the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, the healthcare workers who experienced sleeplessness were also more likely to feel depressed, anxious and have stress-based trauma.
"Typically, stress-related insomnia is transient and persists for only a few days. But if the COVID-19 outbreak continues, insomnia may gradually become chronic insomnia in the clinical setting," said study co-author Bin Zhang, Professor at Southern Medical University in China.
The results are based on a series of self-administered questionnaires conducted online between January 29 and February 3 at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in China.
Researchers used the WeChat social media platform to gather answers from 1,563 participants in the medical field. Of that number, 564 people, or 36.1 per cent, had insomnia symptoms.
The authors of the current study note that the statistic is consistent with previous research conducted on the psychological effects of the 2002 outbreak of SARS, a related coronavirus that also causes severe respiratory distress.
For example, 37 per cent of nurses who worked with SARS patients experienced insomnia.
The insomnia group in the current paper experienced significantly higher levels of depression than the non-insomnia group, 87.1 per cent versus 31 per cent, especially in moderate (22.9 per cent versus 2.8 per cent) and severe (16.7 per cent versus 1.8 per cent) cases.
The percentages and differences between the groups were similar for anxiety and trauma as well.The team also identified certain factors that were correlated with insomnia.
"The most important factor was having very strong uncertainty regarding effective disease control among medical staff," Zhang noted.
Strong uncertainty was 3.3 times higher for those exhibiting insomnia than not, the study said.
Staff with less education were also prone to sleep disorder.
Specifically, researchers found the risk of insomnia among medical staff with a high school education or below was 2.69 times higher than those with a doctoral degree.
They speculated that less education led to more outcome-based fear.
The authors noted that healthcare workers were also under incredible stress in general.
They were in close contact with infected patients who could pass on the disease to them. They were worried about infecting their own family and friends.
"Under these dangerous conditions, medical staff become mentally and physically exhausted, and therefore experience an increased risk of insomnia due to high stress," they wrote. --IANS