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Sleepy Doctors

October 6, 2005

New doctors typically work grueling eighty-hour work weeks. A new report lays out the consequences for the patients they treat.


Sleep-deprived doctors. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Many new doctors are so sleep-deprived that they function as if they’ve had three or four drinks. That’s according to University of Michigan sleep psychologist Todd Arnedt.

He and his colleagues tested reaction times, vigilance, and driving skills of pediatric residents. After a month of 80-hour weeks and overnight shifts, their performance was equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of .04.

TODD ARNEDT (University of Michigan):
So slightly below the legal limit of intoxication in most U.S. states, but still a level at which we know creates performance impairment, judgment impairment, some disinhibition….

Which is worrisome not only for their patients but for the doctors themselves – since it may increase their risk for auto accidents on the way home. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.