Harvard sleep researcher says rules should be changed to make sure physicians-in-training get the shut-eye they need
Last year, the American medical profession admitted that its century-old tradition of sleep-depriving physicians-in-training is unsafe. Working day and night, rather than transferring patient care to a fresh doctor, increases serious medical errors in ICUs by 36 percent, including a 460 percent increase in serious diagnostic mistakes. Twenty-four hours without sleep slows reaction time comparably to alcohol intoxication. Physician-trainees routinely fall asleep during lectures, on patient rounds, while examining patients and even during surgery.
Sleep deprivation impedes memory consolidation and degrades physicians’ clinical performance to the 7th percentile of rested performance. After working more than 24 hours, resident physicians are 73 percent more likely to stab themselves with a needle and 168 percent more likely to crash driving home. One-quarter of them make most sleep-related errors, likely due to sleep disorders or differential vulnerability to sleep loss, w