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Primary health care doctors with higher burnout sleep worse

Executives, lawyers, social workers, salespeople and sales assistants may all suffer burnout, but the group most susceptible to this ailment are people that work in education and the health sector. A new study shows there is a relationship between the burnout of primary health care doctors and sleep disorders.

According to experts, job burnout is currently considered one of the psychosocial risks to which health professionals are exposed. The study analysed the prevalence of insomnia and sleep quality and its relationship with burnout in a sample of primary health care doctors.

The conclusions, which appear in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, showed that people with a high level of burnout sleep worse. Antonio Vela, the study's main researcher, confirmed this to SINC: “data indicates that there is a clear relationship between burnout and sleep disorders”.

The researchers selected a representative sample made up of 240 doctors, 75 men and 165 women, with an average age of 41.9 years. The doctors, who were divided into two groups according to their level of burnout (high burnout and low burnout), came from 70 primary health care centres in the Madrid region.

The work showed that 18.8% of the total sample fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for insomnia of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), with greater prevalence among doctors with high levels of burnout (21.1%), compared to those with low levels of burnout (6.9%).

The results did not show significant differences with regard to age, number of children, education and professional experience. However, differences were noted in terms of sex and the marital status of doctors, with higher levels of burnout in single female doctors.

“Since burnout is a chronic problem that develops over time, it is vital to detect early symptoms for its early prevention”, said Vela. “What's more, the treatment of sleep problems may represent an important step in the rehabilitation process of people with burnout”.

Every day is a torment

Burnout is a mental illness that can affect a large number of people. Recent studies show that between 20% and 30% of doctors, teachers and local police officers suffer its symptoms. Since 2000, a ruling by the Spanish High Court has recognized this syndrome as a mental ailment that causes periods of temporary disability.

This pathology can be considered like the advanced stage of job stress, caused by continuous emotional tearing, daily contact with the demands of other people and saturation of the individual’s adaptive skills. This syndrome normally manifests itself as feelings of helplessness, failure and impotence, low self-esteem, worry and lack of concentration and, even, paranoid behaviour with work colleagues, clients or family.

In physical terms, the consequences of this pathology include tiredness, musculoskeletal pains, migraines, insomnia and gastrointestinal disorders and tachycardia. Finally, the individual's behaviour may also vary with excessive consumption of coffee, alcohol, medicines or drugs, job absenteeism, low performance and interpersonal conflicts.

Doctors recommend forgetting about work problems outside of work, practising relaxation techniques, disconnecting in short breaks throughout the working day and working towards achieving feasible objectives.

However, when the illness has gone beyond its first stages, specialists may advise their patients to abandon work, provided they can show they are incapable of recovering in their respective work centres and their physical or mental health is in serious danger or has been greatly harmed.

SINC Team | alfa
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