'Report: Lack of Sleep May Have Same Effect on Doctors as Drinking Three or Four Cocktails


A recent study conducted by J.Todd Arnedt of the University of Michigan and fellow researchers finds that an 80-hour work week can be just as dangerous as three or four drinks to a doctor who must drive or perform a mentally taxing activity after his or her shift. The researchers tested 34 doctors by measuring their performance on an attention test and a driving simulator on four different occassions. The doctors were either measured after a rotation of day shifts with few evening shifts or after a rotation of intense evening shifts adding up to an 80-hour work week. During the final week of the rotation, the volunteers were either given alcoholic beverages or non-alcoholic placebos.

The results showed that doctors who had worked a heavy schedule of night shifts experienced 7 percent slower reaction times than those doctors who primarily held day shifts. When it came to simulated driving, doctors who worked many night shifts performed similarly to those doctors with an easier schedule whose blood alcohol level was just below the legal limit. The authors concluded that "residents must be aware of post-call performance impairment and the potential risk to personal and patient safety. There should be sleep loss, fatigue and countermeasure education in residency programs. Additional studies should examine the impact of these operational and educational interventions on resident driving safety and on patient care and safety."

© National Sleep Foundation. Published 14th September 2005.