By Christopher Cheney
Healthcare professionals with sleep disorders face a significant risk of burnout, a recent research article found.
Burnout is one of the most vexing challenges facing physicians and other healthcare workers nationwide. Research published in September 2018 indicates that nearly half of physicians nationwide are experiencing burnout symptoms, and a study published in October 2018 found burnout increases the odds of physician involvement in patient safety incidents, unprofessionalism, and lower patient satisfaction.
The recent research article, which was published by JAMA Open Network, features data collected from more than 1,000 staff members at an academic medical center. Healthcare professionals were assessed for obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and shift work disorder. Burnout was assessed using the Maslach Burnout Inventory.
The article includes several key data points:
- 29% of the staff members screened positive for at least one sleep disorder
- Insomnia was the most common sleep disorder, which affected 14% of staff members
- The next most common sleep disorders were obstructive sleep apnea (12%), shift work disorder (11%), and restless legs syndrome (2%)
- Out of the staff members who screened positive for at least one sleep disorder, 92% were previously undiagnosed and untreated
- 29% of staff members screened positive for burnout
- Screening positive for a sleep disorder was linked to increased odds of burnout (odds ratio 3.67) and lower odds of professional fulfillment (odds ratio 0.53)
“The findings of this cross-sectional study suggest that undiagnosed sleep disorders are common among faculty and staff employed in a teaching hospital system. A positive screening result for a sleep disorder was associated with nearly 4-fold increased odds of occupational burnout. Those who had a positive screening result for a sleep disorder were half as likely to report professional fulfillment,” the study’s co-authors wrote.
Interpreting the data
Sleep and mood are related closely, the lead author of the study told HealthLeaders.
“Prior research has established a bidirectional relationship between sleep and a variety of mental health outcomes. Sleep deficiency—through insufficient sleep duration or a sleep disorder that reduces the quality or quantity of sleep—impacts mental health and reduces resiliency. The vulnerability to adverse mental health outcomes introduced by sleep disorders likely increases the risk of occupational burnout,” said Matthew Weaver, PhD, an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as well as an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
The link between sleep disorders and decreased odds of professional fulfillment is a “novel finding” that is open to speculation, he said. “The same evidence that supports the relationship between sleep and burnout likely applies here, though other factors may be important as well. I can say that regardless of job role and specialty, an individual with a sleep disorder is only half as likely to feel fulfilled with their work.”
More research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of a sleep health and wellness program on reducing burnout symptoms, Weaver said.
“The findings indicate that randomized trials to test the effectiveness of a sleep health education and sleep disorder screening program to reduce burnout symptoms are warranted. In addition, replication of these findings at other institutions would add to the evidence in this area. Occupational burnout has proven to be resistant to many prior treatment approaches. This represents an exciting new approach.”
Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.