A recent NPR article asked the question in its headline, "Is it Safe for Medical Residents to Work 30-Hour Shifts?"
I immediately shook my head in disbelief. No. Absolutely not.
Basically, the peg of the story was to delve into how longer work hours may or may not impact first-year medical residents. A year-long study is in effect that aims to compare their current work hour standards (first-year residents are limited to working a maximum of 16 hours sans break) with a more flexible set of hours. By "flexible" (here's the kicker), it's explained that the residents will be assessed to see how working for upwards of 30 hours straight pans out.
Um, don't we already have this answer? For crying out loud, we've repeatedly learned what the outcome of working long hours is, and it's not good. It's not beneficial for anyone, but especially those who are going to do everything from give people the scoop on their ear wax situation to operate on their knees.
Health recommendations coming from yawning medical professionals who view my chart through half-closed eyes? No thank you.
How lack of sleep hurts your health
Time and again, we hear about the health problems associated with not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation -- which affects some 40 percent of Americans who say they get less than the seven to nine hours of recommended sleep daily -- does everything from contribute to weight gain to create stomach issues. Poor memory, mood swings, diminished libido, and vision changes are also some of the health problems linked to not getting enough shut-eye. It's also been found that people who get less than five hours of sleep nightly are more likely to catch a cold as opposed to individuals who sleep for seven or more hours.
Interestingly, another finding conducted by experts from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California used a canine model to compare the effects of sleep deprivation versus a high-fat diet as it relates to insulin sensitivity. Surely, eating unhealthily would be much worse for us than not getting enough sleep, right?
"Our study suggests that one night of total sleep deprivation may be as detrimental to insulin sensitivity as six months on a high-fat diet," said Dr. Josiane Broussard, who directed the study. "This research demonstrates the importance of adequate sleep in maintaining blood sugar levels and reducing risk for metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes."
According to the study details, which can be found online in a press release from The Obesity Society, the findings are explained as follows:
Before the high-fat feeding, the canines were tested for insulin sensitivity, and it was found that one night of sleep deprivation (aka pulling an all-nighter) reduced insulin sensitivity by 33 percent. For comparison, after the six-month-long high-fat diet, the dogs' sensitivity was reduced by only 21 percent.
So, let's see.
Sleep deprivation also jeopardizes the work-life balance
Getting by on little sleep is bad for memory and can lead to double vision. It can put you at risk for developing inflammatory bowel syndrome and make you incredibly moody. Just one night of not enough snooze time is on par with eating badly for six months. And that's just a fraction of the problem.
See, there's also the issue of work-life balance, a topic that often focuses heavily on family time, me-time and yes, bedtime. Too much time at work, in which all-nighters or even occasional earlier-than-normal morning meetings are an expected, career-advancing norm, can jeopardize the work culture on many fronts. I've written on the topic before, advocating the need for more balance in the work-centric mindset that permeates our immediately-if-not-sooner corporate culture.
In a nutshell, sleep deprivation does more than make you walk the office halls bleary-eyed and absent-minded, but has the ability to throw a company's overall productivity off. With less sleep comes more room for email typos, presentation flops and meetings that spew forth the same ideas instead of generating new ones. Not only does this get in the way of an employee's personal success, but it can chip away at a company's bottom line. Diminished output. An increase in on-the-job accidents brought on by -- you guessed it -- sleepy employees who are understandably more accident prone. A spike in sicknesses, leading to absenteeism and spikes in health care costs.
Of the aforementioned medical resident study, groups that represent medical students object vehemently. They maintain that the longer hours will put residents and patients at risk.
You don't say.
According to Michael Carome, head of one such group, the Public Citizen's Health Research Group, it's bound to cause some serious issues. He explains that sleep-deprived students are more inclined to hurt themselves doing things like drawing blood. Such errors could produce drastic consequences, including leading to infections with the HIV or hepatitis virus.
"Tired residents are more likely to make mistakes when they're caring for patients," Carome says. "And those mistakes in some cases can lead to catastrophic complications and even death."
But, sure. Let's go ahead and keep pushing our exhausted selves to the limit.
What's it going to take for society to stop viewing sleep as an afterthought? It's not something to be done after all is said and done, but rather an essential component of thriving personally and professionally.