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Dr. Michael J. Breus Headshot

Has Your Doctor Had a Nap?

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It's long been known that doctors in training don't get much sleep. They endure long hours in teaching hospitals and double shifts. Which is why I was happy to hear about a new report that urges rest breaks during 30-hour shifts.

You heard that right: 30-hour shifts. The most recent recommendation is to allow for a 5-hour break for sleep after the first 16 hours.

It's hard to believe that the first caps on extended working hours in medicine came just five years ago when regulations limited docs to about 80 hours a week. In reality, that still meant logging upwards of 100 hours of work but reporting only 80.

Now, a panel from the Institute of Medicine is encouraging a step further, which may or not may fly (I'm guessing the latter, unfortunately).

I remember my own dog days of graduate school. I got pretty good about taking naps when I needed them. The sleep deprivation not only affects a doctor's ability to treat patients and be adept to handling emergencies--not to mention learning how to be a doctor!--but it also has other consequences. Think about doctors driving home as bleary-eyed as a someone with a few too many drinks in them.

This news comes the same week another report (The American College of Emergency Physicians' 2009 National Report) points to how bad our emergency care system is on a national scale. In a word: FAILING! It mentions a widespread shortage of doctors and nurses. Hello! That's not going to help doctors get more sleep. Maybe schools should be educating more health care practitioners and encouraging more people to enter this profession.

Just don't tell them they'll never sleep again. Maybe we will see reform in all areas of the medical industry soon. Doctors seem to work miracles on a daily basis. But they are still human, and there's no miracle that can make up for lost sleep. 

This sleep article is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.

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