SAN ANTONIO -- Preliminary findings from a study of survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti suggest that sleep issues related to the disaster persist and are associated with ongoing mental health problems, a researcher said here.
Two years after the quake -- which according to some estimates killed more than 200,000 people -- 94% of surveyed survivors said they experienced insomnia following the disaster, 42% showed clinically significant levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and roughly 22% exhibited symptoms of depression, said Judite Blanc, PhD, of New York University School of Medicine at SLEEP 2019, the 33rd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS).
Significant positive correlations were identified between sleep disturbances and later traumatic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and symptoms of depression.
Blanc said the study is one of the first to examine the prevalence of sleep disturbance among survivors of the 2010 earthquake.
"Our findings align with previous studies which found a strong association between post- and peri-trauma symptoms and sleep complaints among survivors of natural disasters," Blanc said, adding that factors related to personal resilience were surprisingly not associated with sleep disturbance in the study cohort.
The study involved 165 Haiti earthquake survivors (mean age 31, 52% male). Participants were living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at the time of the event, which was reported to have displaced more than a million island residents in addition to the huge death toll.
Measures of distress included the Peritraumatic Distress Inventory, the PTSD Checklist Specific, the Beck Depression Inventory, and the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale. The researchers used Spearman correlations and multi-linear regressions to examine the association between resilience, PTSD, depression, and sleep disturbances.
A total of 60.4% of the sampled survivors reported fearing for their lives during the earthquake. Besides the insomnia reported by nearly all respondents, 43% said they had nightmares related to the event.
About 22% showed symptoms of depression as well.
"There were significant positive correlations between sleep disturbances and peritraumatic distress (r=0.41, P<0.001), symptoms of depression (r=0.32, P< 0.001), and age (r=0.15, P<0.001), but not with resilience factors," Blanc reported.
The most significant risk factors for sleep disturbances were peritraumatic distress, PTSD, and depression symptoms, which explained 58% of the variance, she said.
One message from the study, she said, is that sleep health should be a major component of all public and global health programs, especially those that take a heavy humanitarian toll.
She added that sleep hygiene, which is often ignored, "should be incorporated in mental and physical health interventions in the aftermath of traumatic events."
Funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health.
Disturbed sleep linked to mental health problems
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