Sleep problems appear to be closely linked to mental health problems among natural disaster survivors even two years after the event, according to a new study that surveyed survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The findings suggest that sleep health should be a major focus of humanitarian crisis interventions.
The 2010 Haiti earthquake was the most devastating in the country’s history, killing more than 200,000 people and displacing more than 1 million residents.
Two years after the earthquake, researchers surveyed 165 Port-au-Prince residents with a mean age of about 31 years; 52% were men. The team found significant associations between sleep disturbances and peritraumatic distress (i.e., emotional reaction during and immediately after the event), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and symptoms of depression. Resilience did not appear to be a buffer against sleep disturbance.
According to the researchers, sleep is often neglected in the aftermath of traumatic events; but in these types of 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 lead author and principal investigator Judite Blanc, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Healthful Behavior Change at NYU School of Medicine.
Specifically, 94 percent of the respondents experienced insomnia symptoms after the disaster. Two years later, 42 percent showed clinically significant levels of PTSD, and nearly 22 percent had symptoms of depression.
“This is one of the first epidemiological studies to investigate the prevalence of sleep disturbances among survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake,” said Blanc. “Our study underscores the strong association between common trauma-related disorders and comorbid sleep conditions among a group of survivors.”
“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.”
The research abstract is published in an online supplement of the journal Sleep and will be presented in San Antonio at SLEEP 2019, the 33rd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS).