What's Wrong With 3 Hours of Sleep?

Sheila M. Bigelow, DO

Disclosures

December 18, 2013

Question

Isn't it best for med students to get used to sleep deprivation to train for being on-call?

Response from Sheila M. Bigelow, DO
Resident Physician -- Pediatrics, UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio

Who Needs Sleep, Anyway?

Medical school has been described as trying to drink from a fire hose. There is just so much information being thrown at you and so many demands from exams, clinical rotations, presentations, and research that it can begin to feel like there is never enough time in the day to get it all done. If you want to have any personal or family life, you start to think that unless you cut out sleep, you are not going to get it all done. Particularly at peak busy times, like before big exams, boards, or presentations, it might be tempting to pull an all-nighter or at least severely restrict your sleep to just an hour or two. Some might even argue that it is good preparation for the inevitable calls to be taken in residency. However, I would argue against that thought process and say that this is the time to learn how to balance it all in a productive, healthy way.

Sleep does many good things for you and your body. It is a restorative time both physically and mentally, and who in medical school doesn't need some mental and physical restoration? During sleep your brain doesn't just turn off and become useless. The brain uses this time to organize all that great information you learned about the Kreb cycle during the day and increases your learning of those tough subjects.

Medical school and the associated stress can worsen in a sleep-deprived state. Who doesn't become a little bit snappier or stressed when working hard on 3 hours of sleep vs a full 8 hours? Ask a new mother how she feels a few weeks after her newborn's birth, and she will probably admit to being sleep deprived and stressed at times.

Last but not least, lack of sleep is linked with all sorts of health problems including, but not limited to, heart disease, heart failure, arrythmias, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. I don't know about you, but the idea of being a failing, depressed medical student with hypertension is not appealing to me, so I would vote for getting a full night of sleep; what do you think? Check out this article for more information about how good sleep is for you.

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