The sleep disorder that the population suffers the most is insomnia. It is calculated that between 5 and 50% of the population find it difficult to sleep, suffers several awakenings throughout the night, wakes up excessively early or cannot get a good night’s sleep. All these are the faces of insomnia according to the definition of the Spanish Sleep Society.
The causes of insomnia can be varied. It is not necessary to suffer a situation as stressful as a great fire, an earthquake, tsunami or wars, although the impact that these events have on the quality of our sleep is perhaps the most documented and analyzed.
But since now we have to live a situation as extreme as Covid-19, we can ask ourselves:What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on everyone’s rest? and, especially, of the health personnel, subjected for almost a year to brutal work rates and extreme situations for which nobody is prepared?
At the beginning of 2020, the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN) estimated that between 25-30% of the Spanish adult population had transitory insomnia and that 10-15% suffered from chronic insomnia.
These percentages rose among some professional groups, for example, among healthcare workers, where insomnia already affected 45% of people working in the field of health.
“It’s without doubt that the feeling of fear, anxiety and uncertainty generated by the pandemic has considerably increased these figures among the Spanish population. But if to this situation we add the care overload or the pressure to which many people are being subjected in their work environment, the effects that the pandemic is having on the quality of sleep are even more striking “, says the Dr. David Ezpeleta, secretary of the Board of Directors of the Spanish Society of Neurology.
And although it is still too early to quantify the true scope that the pandemic is having in the development of sleep disorders, two studies were presented at the last Annual Meeting of the SEN, one carried out by the Neurology Service of the La Mancha Centro Hospital Complex and another of the Neurology Service of the 12 de Octubre University Hospital, from which some conclusions can already be drawn.
And it is that, according to these two studies, 80% of Spanish health workers suffered insomnia during the months of March, April and May 2020 and 90% claimed to have suffered some kind of sleep disorder during this period.
In addition, the perception of insomnia, of having nightmares, sleepwalking, night terrors, or general loss of quality of sleep They were more frequent in the group of health personnel than among workers who have nothing to do with the health sector and who also participated in these studies. Shift work was also associated with a higher probability for the development of these symptoms.
“Sleep is a physiological necessity and scientific evidence suggests that sleep is involved in processes of homeostatic recovery, thermoregulation, tissue repair, immune control, endocrinology, and memory consolidation. Therefore, both acute and chronic sleep deprivation can have very negative effects on health, ”explains Dr. Ezpeleta.
But How many hours a day do we need to sleep? Although there is no single answer to this question, since the need for sleep is different in each person, probably due to the genetics of each one and how sleep deprivation affects us individually, as a general rule, most of the population needs to sleep between 6 and 8 hours up to date.
A multitude of studies that have been published in this regard show that long hours of work, often associated with a high level of physical and psychological stress, together with the effects of chronodisruption generated by shift work, cause acute and chronic sleep deprivation that negatively affects health.
Y not sleeping has negative effects not only at the cognitive level, but also affects our cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems.
Prolonged wakefulness and sleep deprivation affect the functioning of neural networks, negatively impacting tasks such as attention, concentration and memory.
In addition, this effect is cumulative, that is, the greater the number of hours awake or the greater the number of days of sleep deprivation, the greater problems we will have when it comes to concentrating or maintaining attention.
This means that professionals who suffer insomnia on a continuous basis are at greater risk of suffering work, home and traffic accidents. It also affects decision-making or emotional control, causing irritability and excessive responses with minimal stimuli.
Lack of sleep and mortality
The chronic reduction of hours of sleep also has negative consequences on mortality. One of the latest studies that have been carried out concluded that for every 5% reduction in REM sleep, mortality increases by 13% over a 12-year follow-up period.
“The reasons for this are not entirely clear yet, but it is thought that a good sleep quality has protective antioxidant effects, while sleep deprivation would cause activation of the cellular oxidative cascade ”.
“Also, sleep deprivation also negatively affects the evolution of inflammatory diseases, lowers the pain threshold and there has even been a reduction in the production of antibodies to certain diseases, such as the flu ”.
On the other hand, large epidemiological studies indicate that risk of having a cardiovascular accident increases with prolonged sleep deprivation. Specifically, sleeping chronically less than 5 hours a night, for at least 2 days a week, has been shown to multiply by 2 or 3 the cardiovascular risk.
Shift work affects health
Regarding how it affects the digestive system, shift work is known to produce variations in the intestinal rhythm and an increase in the chances of suffering from an ulcer in the duodenum.
The labor turniness too decreases fertility, causes menstrual disorders, dysmenorrhea, and increases the risk of spontaneous abortion, premature birth and low baby weight at birth.
And alterations in exposure to sunlight may also be responsible for the increased risk of depression and neurotic disorders, or to make certain diseases worse, such as migraine.
“It is clear that the pandemic is greatly affecting the entire population and in all areas. But if we do not want the consequences of the pandemic to have even more impact on health, it is necessary to find formulas to improve the rest of the population, especially among people who are being exposed to a high level of physical, psychological and work stress “, concludes Dr. David Ezpele
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.