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Your doctor is … sleep-deprived
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Your doctor is … sleep-deprived

Sleep deprivation in healthcare professionals is a growing concern. Experts share sleep tips for healthcare workers
Sleep-deprived doctors
Sleep for medical professionals

The medical profession is a job that focuses on improving the wellbeing of everyone. But it is concerning when the individuals working in the field of medicine are expected to work odd hours (shifts outside 7am to 6pm) or extended hours without proper rest and sleep. Thirty-two percent of healthcare workers reported they do not get enough sleep. The fatigue due to lack of sleep can cause healthcare workers to injure themselves at work or while driving back home in a drowsy condition at night.

Roopa Sha (32), homemaker from Goa, India, recalls going to a hospital at 2 am for her delivery. She was baffled to see a doctor who seemed to be drowsy and insisted another doctor treat her.

“Lack of sleep causes mental and physical impairment similar to being intoxicated. Being awake for 24 hours straight is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10% (above the legal limit in the United States). Yet doctors routinely work 24 hours or more straight in residency, fellowship, and medical practice. If doctors aren’t fit to use their driver’s licence after being awake for 24 hours continuously, they shouldn’t be expected to use their medical licence,” said Dr Laura Vater, Oncologist and advocate for clinician health and wellbeing, United States.

“Ample data now show us: Sleep deprivation among doctors increases the risk of medical error, car accidents, and compassion fatigue (tiredness caused due to being compassionate on a day to day basis). If we care about the health of patients and doctors, we must let doctors sleep” added Dr Vater. 

Importance of sleep for medical professionals

“Having poor sleep can impact a medic’s decision when attending emergencies. A person who works in the emergency department, in a high paced setting, must think critically within a short time to give the best care to patients. Such critical decisions require an optimally functioning brain. Quality sleep can greatly improve brain function,” says Dr Ezine, medical doctor, stress management coach, Coventry, United Kingdom.

“A minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sleep is required for individuals of any profession. Health care workers have hectic working hours which impacts their physical and cognitive health,” says Dr Karthik Madesh, Senior consultant at the Center for Sleep Health, Apollo Hospital, Vanagram. 

He said, “If there is a sleep deficit of two hours each day, consecutively for 5 days the impact it has on cognitive ability is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.0495%, with increased sleep deprivation worsening the effects. The permissible blood alcohol level is 0.03%. Hence, if healthcare workers are sleep deprived, they are risking the life of both the patient and themselves. Therefore, sleep hygiene is crucial for medical professionals.”

How can a healthcare worker sleep better?

Dr Ezine said, “If you sleep and you wake up feeling refreshed, without getting headaches or feel sleepy during the day, to an extent, you’ve had a good night/morning rest (depending on the shift you worked), this means you are fully rested and can have your best focus at work.”

“Power nap can be helpful. This doesn’t ensure complete recovery from sleep deficit, but it helps provide necessary rest. Improve sleeping habits by avoiding physical activity or food consumption before going to bed,” added Dr Madesh.

Dr Ezine recommends that we should aim for both good quality and quantity of sleep.

Good quality sleep

  • Sleep in a dark, quiet, and cool room
  • Avoid coffee, heavy meals or too much water a few hours before bedtime. Frequent bathroom trips can disturb a night’s rest.
  • Avoid overthinking at bedtime to manage your worries and stress.
  • Warm shower before bedtime helps in relaxing and improving sleep.
  • Avoid using alcohol to get yourself to sleep.

Quantity of sleep

“Science has shown that adults need 8 hours of sleep at night. To be fair, not many adults can afford it in today’s world. Rather than chasing 8 hours and giving yourself anxiety for not meeting up to the recommended hours, you can try 7 hours but not less than 6 hours of sleep. However, ensure you are well rested within these hours,” says Dr Ezine.

Role of organisation in avoiding sleep deprived mishaps

”Administrative components also play a role in making sure that every healthcare professional working in the hospital is fully rested. The work, especially during the night shift, must be evenly distributed without burdening any one individual,” says Dr Madesh.

“In such a hectic profession, time management is important for medical students and interns as they are always stressed for lack of time. Awareness of people managers is important to avoid mishaps that can occur due to lack of sleep” he added.

Takeaway

Sleep deprivation in medical professionals is a serious problem which can be a threat to themselves, and the patients they are treating. Hence sleep experts suggest having good quality as well as good quantity of sleep.

Share Your Experience/Comments

5 Responses

    1. Thank you for your query, we at Happiest Health however do not offer medical advice or suggest any doctors’ names.

  1. Nice article
    If a doctor is only sleep deprived how better they can care for the patient
    It’s the matter of thinking?

  2. This is the point we need to focus on. Being a medical professional, I believe that this should be our first priority. Also, the management and the authority under which we work should consider this for the wellbeing of those who are in medical department such as doctors, nurses, etc.

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