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Naps may not Help Sleep-Deprived Doctors

A new sleep study shows that doctors and medical students who are woken up from their naps or sleep may be in a worse state shortly after waking up than if they hadn’t slept at all.  The time between waking up and fully waking up has been termed “sleep inertia” and this time period may impair people even more than significant sleep deprivation.

The study is significant because people have often thought that even taking short naps could help ease the grogginess and incoordination of professionals and students working in high stress environments, such as the medical or even firefighter or law enforcement fields.   The periods of sleep inertia may last several minutes or even longer, says the study’s director, Kenneth P. Wright Jr. Ph.D., of the Sleep and Chronobiology Lab at the University of Colorado.

The study’s findings suggest that sleep inertia could lead to more accidents and potentially problematic medical mistakes, especially among doctors and residents who are woken up and must perform important functions immediately.  The study was reported on in a research letter in the January 11, 2006 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study followed eight men and one woman, all free of any medications or drugs, including caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.  The first six nights the subjects were allowed about eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.  On the sixth night the subjects were wakened and given a series of cognitive tests over the following 26 hours.  
The study found that the scores of the subjects were uniformly awful upon awakening and showed some significant improvement after twenty minutes.
The study’s findings shed more light on the problems in high stress and sleep-deprived occupations, and on naps and rhythms of sleep patterns.  The findings are likely to create new studies and spawn further research into the area.


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