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Disturbed sleep linked to mental health problems in natural disaster survivors

Posted on 13th June 2019 at 18:15pm

Preliminary results from a new study suggest that sleep disturbances are associated with mental health problems among survivors of a natural disaster, even up to two years after the event.

Researchers surveyed survivors two years after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Results show that 94 per cent reported experiencing subsequent insomnia symptoms after the disaster. Two years later, 42 per cent showed clinically significant levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and nearly 22 per cent had symptoms of depression.

There were significant positive correlations between sleep disturbances and peritraumatic distress (ie emotional reaction during and immediately after the event), PTSD, and symptoms of depression. Resilience did not appear to be a buffer against sleep disturbance.

"This is one of the first epidemiological studies to investigate the prevalence of sleep disturbances among survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake," said lead author and principal investigator Judite Blanc, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Healthful Behavior Change within the Division of Health and Behavior in the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine. "Our study underscores the strong association between common trauma-related disorders and comorbid sleep conditions among a group of survivors."

The study involved 165 participants living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with a mean age of about 31 years; 52 per cent were men.

Measures included demographic factors, the Peritraumatic Distress Inventory, the PTSD Checklist Specific, the Beck Depression Inventory, and the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale. Spearman correlations and multilinear regressions were used to explore associations among resilience, PTSD, depression, and sleep disturbances.

"Findings from our study highlight the need to assess and treat sleep issues among disaster survivors, as they are highly prevalent after a natural disaster and are related to mental health conditions," said Blanc. "Our work supports the importance of sleep in disaster preparedness programs globally." 

Blanc added that sleep is often neglected in the aftermath of traumatic events, but in these situations, sleep should be considered an important target of mental and physical health interventions.

"Our results make the case that sleep health should be a major component of all public and global health programs and specifically in humanitarian crises," said Blanc.

The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal Sleep was presented at Sleep 2019, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS), which is a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.

Image: Elena Kazanskaya/123rf

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