America is exhausted. A recent report from the CDC says that the percentage of adults sleeping fewer than 6 hours per night has increased by 31% since 1985. This sleep deficit not only leaves people tired, irritable, and less productive, but also increases the risk for some serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and even earlier death. Just how much sleep we need isn’t completely clear, although according to the available data, most people should aim for 7 hours of sleep each night. Simple lifestyle changes can help people meet that goal.
Do the long hours in the hospital, often with little sleep, make doctors in training more prone to making mistakes? Over the past decade, concerns regarding trainee doctors’ sleep loss and the potential for medical errors have brought about limits on the number of consecutive hours a resident can work in the hospital. Do the same concerns apply to fully licensed surgeons? A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the answer is no. Comparing the data on patients whose surgeons were on call the night before with that of patients whose surgeons were not working the night before showed virtually no difference in how well the patients did after surgery. It is not clear, however, whether these doctors anticipated the effects of being on call and compensated for them, or whether these results would be the same for less-experienced surgeons-in-training.