Why Sleep Deprivation Is Detrimental To Med Students

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Numerous studies have been conducted around how sleep deprivation can lead to higher rates of surgical errors if a surgeon has had less than 6 hours of sleep the previous night. Well, you might not be a full-fledged surgeon yet, but as a medical student you already know what running on minimal sleep is like. Fatigue sets in and it affects mental acuity. 

A student at work in the obstetrics and gynaecology department at Morogoro Regional Hospital Medicine is a 24/7 job

Today medical care has become very complex and the complexity in bedside care and operating theatres has stressed doctors physically and mentally. It is a known fact that residents and doctors have to work extended hours – in some cases for up to 48 hours at a stretch. But the fact is, it is routine. When duty calls, you are expected to answer. You are a doctor and you signed up for a profession that demands that you be on call 24/7. 

The Call Of Duty

When duty calls, you will answer but being sleep deprived and fatigued is not really a great or a smart way to work. You end up jeopardizing your patients’ safety and it does nothing for your physical or mental health either. The fact is that sleep is essentially a basic human need.

As you move through medical school and into residency, you will find that sleep becomes more elusive and you will soon start thinking about it as a precious commodity. Doctors routinely end up shortchanging themselves on sleep but the problem is, the more you increase your sleep debt, the sleepier you will become. The only way you can erase sleep debt is by sleeping. The common symptoms of lack of sleep in doctors include:

  • Reduced vigilance
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Decrease in decision making skills
  • Slowing down of mental processes
  • Longer reaction time
  • Irritability
  • Increased negativity
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor communication
  • Overall apathy

These are just a few of the symptoms of sleep deprivation. When you look at these effects, it is not difficult to understand that it has a negative impact on your mental and physical health as well as your overall well being.

Sleep inertia is another common effect. This is a feeling of grogginess when you wake up from a sleep. This grogginess which is a result of sleep deprivation impedes your ability to perform the simplest of tasks.

Time management matters

When you decide that you are going to take up a medical career, it is a given that you will be severely sleep deprived for a major percentage of your medical school years. This will be attributed partly to the amount of studies that you have to cram into your 4 years at medical school and the rest will be due to the number of hours you put in as a doctor on call and during your years as a resident doctor.

Though most of it is unavoidable, the only way you will be able to maintain some semblance of sanity is to manage you study hours effectively. While you are in residency, eke out as much time as you can to catch on that much-needed sleep. Give up on part of your social life if need be and pamper yourself to some well-earned sleep!

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