Sleep Deprivation; Threatening the Advancement of Modern Medicine

Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scrubs and other wildly popular medical television shows have held a vast number of faithful viewers on the edge of their seats.  Writers of these hit television shows exploit sleep deprivation in medical residents and its effects on patient care to boost ratings. But sleep deprivation and its effects are not just a strategic move in the television industry; sleep deprivation in medical residents is proven to have negative effects, such as slowed motor skills and lack of concentration. Without being in the industry, one would assume sleep deprivation is not a pressing issue in the medical field, but that could not be farther from the truth.  The magnitude of sleep deprivation’s consequences will leave a lasting impact on the medical field if action is not taken.


Impact on the Human Body

Sleep Deprivation can simply be classified as going without an adequate amount of sleep each night for a long period of time.  Given that sleep is necessary in order for the body to function properly, lack of sleep can lead to major consequences.  Studies have proven that sleep deprivation can significantly hinder a person’s memory and learning abilities (Havekes, 2016).  Essentially, sleep connects neurons with the part of the brain that controls memory and learning; without that connectivity the brain will not function normally (Havekes, 2016).  Against popular belief, sleep deprivation shows no favoritism.  Just because someone is considered a “night owl” or other synonymous nicknames, it does not mean they are immune to sleep deprivation and its lasting effects.


Effect on the Medical Field

As you begin to connect the dots, you realize the impact that sleep deprivation is having on the medical field.  The majority of individuals that perform surgeries, prescribe medication, and diagnose diseases are the same people that are suffering from learning deficiencies and memory loss.  Medical faculty must realize they’re self-imposing neglect into their own line of work, right?  And when they first recognize the effects of sleep deprivation they must have the wherewithal to stop this dangerous trend, correct?  You would be shocked to know that this is not true for a majority of medical residents.  In a study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Toronto, a survey was given to both surgical and nonsurgical medical residents at the university’s six hospitals to assess the current state of their sleep habits.  The vast majority of those who responded to the survey identified as sleep deprived, while the majority of the sleep deprived medical residents claim to knowingly be sleep deprived and accept it as part of the job (Woodrow, 2008).  Essentially, this is allowing new residents of the medical field to create an environment in which sleep deprivation is something you tolerate, not prevent.  If sleep deprivation becomes commonplace in medical residents, the future of our medical field is extremely bleak.


Do not think for one second that surgeons are too knowledgeable or have enough experience that they do not suffer from sleep deprivation either.  In an article by Drs. Noni MacDonald, Paul Hébert, Ken Flegel and Matthew Stanbrook, sleep deprivation is acknowledged in all facets of the medical field and a desire to make a change is evident.  MacDonald, Hébert, Flegel, and Stanbrook are not only doctors, but are also editors of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.  These four have a vast understanding of both the medical and journalism fields and are using one field to try to save the other.  They suggest that doctors should take the initiative to police their own hours much more responsibly, and if this is not done then government intervention may be the next step (MacDonald, 2011).  Realizing there is a problem in the medical field and actively trying to do something about it, like these four doctors have done, is very commendable; we can salvage our medical system, but we must begin to reverse this trend and do so in a timely manner.


Sleep Deprivation in Medicine as a Social Issue

It feels ridiculous that a major issue in our country is that medical employees will not get a responsible amount of sleep that would allow them to do their jobs successfully.  I can understand and even appreciate one’s desire to do their job and make a difference, but if you act in the medical field while sleep deprived, you are making a difference in a negative way.  Doctors, nurses, medical residents and many more occupations are more likely to make a mistake or act negligibly when sleep deprived, and there is really no way around it.  It is true that many people love their job so much that they deprive themselves of sleep because of it, but it is also true that those people are responsible for another person’s life and wellbeing on a daily basis.  Sure, it could be considered a double standard that being a sleep deprived doctor is worse than another occupation that is sleep deprived, but is it not rightfully so?  It is my belief that the root of most doctors’ desire to work in the medical field is to help others. Working sleep deprived only hurts themselves and the patients, which is contrary to their reason for entering the field in the first place.


Plan of Action

It is a popular belief in the medical field that sleep deprivation will continue and will require drastic measures to see a significant change.  I am hopeful that the attention and coverage that this issue receives will result in hospitals delegating their employees’ hours more strictly.  After all, it is the hospital’s responsibility to ensure proper patient care from all employees in regards to legality.  If all else fails, legislation could be pushed and passed, more strictly enforcing weekly work hours, but I do not see that as being a positive change.  Government oversight and impact already handcuffs a large portion of the medical field and even more government limitations could be seen as government’s attempt to prevent medical breakthroughs.  Medicine, deservingly so, holds a top priority of importance in our society and is one of the most remarkable innovations in human history.  By eliminating sleep deprivation, surgeons, doctors, nurses, and all other integral occupations of the medical field can get back to advancing medicine and begin to lessen the public’s doubts regarding patient care.