Thursday, March 6, 2008

Physicians are Sleep Deprived

When patients complain about insomnia or difficulty staying asleep, I must admit I have no personal point of reference to what they are experiencing. I can fall asleep within minutes of my head hitting that nice soft pillow. I can doze off in a movie, sitting around with a group of friends or reading medical journals. The American College of Chest Physicians has now published results of a survey that shows the majority of doctors are sleep deprived.

I suspected it before. We just don't get enough sleep. Doctors reported they scrimp on sleep during the work week and catch up on weekends. Interestingly most physicians reported the lack of sleep did not adversely affect their work. However, 18% admitted they missed family or leisure activities in order to sleep. I think this may be a bit of the "Superman" syndrome. Oh sure, other humans need sleep for top level function, but not me! I'm a Doctor!

The National Sleep Foundation maintains that 8 to 9 hours of sleep for adult humans is optimal for alertness, memory and problem solving. Other studies have found that lack of sleep can more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, but that too much sleep can also double the risk of death.

I would like to see this same survey broken down by age. It is a well known fact that new, young doctors have a very different view of their place in the profession and they are not willing to sacrifice their own personal needs (sleep, recreation, family, outside activities) for the profession of medicine. Work is one aspect of their life, not their entire life. I suspect that younger doctors are not sleep deprived. They have found a way for better balance.

I know for a fact that you can train yourself, over time, to get by on less sleep. I sleep less than anyone in my family or my friends. Is this a good thing? I don't know but it does allow me to indulge in blogging and reading and writing and yawn!!!! I'm tired.


Rich said...

I don't require much sleep either. I get by on 4-6 hours a night. I have to admit that a nice nap on a rainy Saturday afternoon beats everything.

dr_clairebear said...

hi! got here through a Grand Rounds link - and i will definitely be back. :)

i'm an insomniac myself, but am still amazed how quickly i can sink into a catnap when the opportunity presents itself. it's conditioning from too many 24 hour duties...

Anonymous said...

I've been getting 4 hours every work night for a few years now until a few weeks ago when I tried hypnotherapy. I expected to either be sleeping every night or to have no changes, but now, I get a good 6 hours at least 4 times a week. Sleep is such a gift.
One aside about the survey - what do the people who sleep 5 hours a night check?

patientadvocate said...

I have often tried to manage my sleep to optimize how many things I can juggle. That being said, the evidence keeps growing about the impact sleep has on health from weight to other factors. I talk about it on my blog every once in a while. (

Additionally, there is a whole chapter on people that don't get enough sleep in the book Microtrends which I just finished reading.

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