4 Important Reasons Why Doctors Need Adequate Sleep

Medically reviewed by

Information for Doctors

5 min read

Key Takeaways

People generally assume that doctors are fitter than everyone else. And why not? They do know how the body works and what it needs, so they have an inside track to a healthy body. However, this is not true. Doctors like everybody else can be unhealthy and not in the best shape. This is usually because of overextended work hours and possible stress.

There is no doubt that a stressful lifestyle can harm the body in multiple ways [1]. Doctors, similar to other healthcare providers, log in long hours taking care of patients. This can cause severe health repercussions, such as an unhealthy diet, weight gain, and most importantly, lack of sleep. 

The importance and benefits of sleep are well-established. Studies are still discovering relationships between adequate rest and sleep to preventing and reducing hypertension, heart diseases, and mental disorders [2]. However, while doctors advocate a good night's sleep for good health, they run short on it themselves.  

Sleep deprivation among doctors has further worsened during the pandemic with the constant rise in cases [3]. This is a critical problem among healthcare workers, affecting their performance and patient care. Studies have shown that lack of sleep and rest can affect a physician’s performance, risking patient health and care [4]. So, it is of utmost importance that doctors ensure that they are well-rested and sleep well on a consistent basis.

To fully understand why doctors need adequate sleep and rest, read on. 

Decline in cognitive ability 

It is common knowledge that the human brain needs sleep to function optimally. Studies have made it increasingly clear that sleep rests the brain and enhances cognitive functions [5]. Adequate and high-quality sleep sharpens concentration and increases focus. It also improves numerous other skills such as memory, problem-solving, judgment, and emotional processing.

All these skills are necessary for doctors and healthcare workers to provide the best possible care for patients. Lack of quality sleep can significantly reduce response time, impair speed and accuracy, and increase inattentiveness. Furthermore, the gap between sleep obtained and sleep needed can result in incurring a sleep debt. This can result in doctors feeling drowsy or tired in the middle of the day.

Considering the possible repercussions of a wrong diagnosis or dosage, doctors cannot afford to be distracted or drowsy at work. Doctors suffering from lack of sleep can do more harm than good. So, doctors and other healthcare workers need to prioritize high-quality and adequate sleep.

Increase in negligence 

Doctors need to be accessible along with being proficient at their job. However, being constantly available and on-call affects their sleep pattern. This results in lack of sleep and the possible development of long-term sleep problems like insomnia and sleep apnea. Lack of quality sleep affects brain functions in a similar way as alcohol intoxication and has physiological impacts too. This can affect a doctor's ability to perform simple surgical procedures such as intravenous insertion and administrating the correct dosage. Furthermore, sleep deprivation can result in forgetfulness, which can lead to errors in diagnosis and prescription.

Besides patient care, doctors themselves are at a high risk of being involved in accidents due to impaired motor skills. Therefore, it is clear that inadequate rest can have negative implications on a doctor's professional duties. A drop in vigilance and alertness can result in negligence, causing serious medical errors.

side effects of inadequate sleep

Impaired emotional processing 

Apart from physical fatigue, inadequate sleep and rest can result in emotional burnout. Lack of sleep can cause mood swings and irritability. Furthermore, mediocre or below-par performance can add to emotional burnout, making simple tasks seem overwhelming.

Moreover, the current pandemic has doctors working extensive hours. Doctors have to be on-call all day, treating and taking care of Covid-19 patients. They get minimum rest and are away from their families, which fosters loneliness and depression. In such a scenario, anxious and demanding patients can emotionally drain doctors, resulting in conflict.

Practicing empathy with patients is an integral part of being a healthcare provider. The onus is on doctors to be patient and understanding while dealing with difficult and anxious patients. However, inadequate rest coupled with strenuous working hours can result in agitation and lack of empathy.

Increase in health risks 

Sleep deprivation can affect not only doctors' performance, but also their health. In general, those getting inadequate and low-quality sleep are more prone to putting on weight. Additionally, sleep deprivation coupled with lack of exercise and a nutritious diet increase the risk of obesity. This is because inferior quality sleep disrupts normal metabolic activity and increases the appetite. So, doctors who do not get enough sleep tend to consume more calories.

Obesity is a risk factor for many serious health conditions like diabetes, heart problems, hypertension, weakened immune system. This further increases susceptibility towards infectious and contagious diseases. This is not good for doctors who come in contact with sick patients all day. In the current pandemic, a weakened immune system increases the risk of contracting Covid-19.

It is evident that long-term lack of sleep and rest can pose health risks for doctors like unhealthy weight gain, heart diseases, weakened immunity, and diabetes. A sick and unfit doctor can put patients' lives at risk. In order to take care of themselves and their patients betters, doctors should strive to maintain a strict schedule that ensures they get the sleep they need to be well-rested and active.

Published on 22 Mar 2022Last updated on 4 Jan 2023

Please note that this article is solely meant for informational purposes and Bajaj Finserv Health Limited (“BFHL”) does not shoulder any responsibility of the views/advice/information expressed/given by the writer/reviewer/originator. This article should not be considered as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your trusted physician/qualified healthcare professional to evaluate your medical condition. The above article has been reviewed by a qualified doctor and BFHL is not responsible for any damages for any information or services provided by any third party.


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