Sleep Deprivation and its Weird Effects on the Mind and Body.
Updated: Aug 20
Now that I've started surgical residency,sleep deprivation is an issue that I am intimately familiar with.
Let's talk about the science of sleep deprivation and how to best handle it. What's going on guys! J from Med School Insiders.com. I'll start off by saying that I do not recommend you deprive yourself of sleep and if you have difficulty maintaining or getting enough sleep,then you should speak to a professional. Now there is a strange culture surrounding sleep, we wear our sleep deprivation as a badge of honor reflecting our productivityand commitment to what we do. But this is an unhealthy way to go about it. There is nothing to be proud of with sleep deprivation.
In fact I would argue that it is often dueto poor time management and inefficiencies throughout your day. That being said, there are a few instanceswhere sleep deprivation is nearly impossible to avoid such as during residency such asmyself or during certain rotations of medical school or other demanding professions outsideof medicine. However, there's always a way to increaseyour efficiency and thereby increase the amount of time available to sleep. I have also gone over how to maximize yourhours of sleep in this Article above. Six hours of high quality sleep goes a lotfurther than six hours of low quality sleep.
So what's the big deal with sleep deprivationanyway? We know that chronic sleep deprivation isnot good for us but how come? Well, sleep deprivation leads to impairedmemory, compromised problem-solving abilities, impaired fine motor skills and an increasedrisk of getting in a car crash if you're behind the wheel without getting enough Z's. In a study on sleep deprivation and alcoholintoxication,
researchers found that performance on various cognitive and spacial reasoning tasks was impaired by sleep deprivation. More specifically, 17 to 19 hours without sleep correspond to performance equivalent to a BAC, that is blood alcohol concentration of 0.5%.
After longer periods without sleep, performancewas equivalent to a BAC of 0.1 percent which is above the legal limit.
Sleep deprivation has also been associatedwith increased levels of amyloid beta, a protein associated with Alzheimer's disease. More prolonged sleep deprivation also increasesthe protein tau, another protein linked to brain damage and Alzheimer's and other diseases. A recent study in the Journal of Neurosciencesuggests that sleep deprivation alters the activity of astrocytes and microglia in thebrain. These are support cells for neurons and thisresults in the brain being more susceptible to damage. Clickbait titles describing the study readthat sleep deprivation causes your brain to eat itself. While that is it quite true, these supportingcells are critical to healthy brain function. All right, so let's say you don't care aboutthe long-term effects of sleep deprivation. As I've said many times on the blog, all-nightersare going to cause you more harm than good.
So don't do them! This also ties in with the next point on sleepinertia. Sleep inertia is a period of mild cognitiveimpairment and motor dysfunction that occurs when someone wakes up from non REM sleep,usually in the middle of the night or when sleeping after a long period of sleep deprivation. It can last between 10 and 120 minutes andcan leave you more prone to poorer judgments. This is one reason why sleep deprivation inresidents working in the hospital is so worrisome. Alright, so what can you actually do aboutit? The first and most obvious thing is of courseto get more sleep. If you think that's not possible, I encourageyou to critically look at your day and see if you can be more efficient opening up moretime for sleep.
After that, I suggest reading my Article onhow to wake up early and not be miserable and my second Article on sleeping science andways to sleep more effectively. Links will be in the description below. So let's go back to sleep inertia; you canmitigate the effects of sleep inertia with light exposure, physical activity, frequentnapping and good nutrition and hydration. If you know that you will have an irregularshift coming up such as overnight call, plan accordingly. I personally recommend sleeping a few hoursbefore and a few hours after your shift. So let's say you have a shift from 10:00 p.m. Until 8:00 a.m., sleeping for hours beforeand four hours after would not be a bad approach. If you don't have time for a few hours ofsleep, let's say you're on night call after a full day, then try to take a power nap.
A power nap of even 15 to 30 minutes has beenshown to improve an individual's alertness. Again, avoid longer naps because of sleepinertia which will impair your performance. Eating properly is crucial as you burn additionalcalories when working intensely. Dehydration and reduced glucose levels canimpair decision-making. It generally takes two full nights to recoverfrom one night of sleep impairment. Now, among resident physicians working inthe hospital such as myself, the most common countermeasure is of course caffeine.
Use caffeine wisely however. Like any other substance, you can developa tolerance and/or become dependent on it. I personally save caffeine for my sleep deprivationemergency situations where I am having trouble staying awake, such as last week when I wason overnight call. I use a French press with freshly ground coffeeand a zojirushi thermos. It is an excellent system and even straightblack coffee tastes amazing. I have also resorted to caffeine tablets asbackup when I don't have coffee on hand. Links to these items are in the descriptionbelow. I will be going over caffeine science andhow to use it effectively in an upcoming Article. Now last point, please do not drive whileyou are sleep deprived.
It is very dangerous and like we learned earliercan impair you to the same level as driving drunk. It's better to pay for an Uber than to riskyour life and many hospitals offer this as a service. Alright guys, that is it for this Article. Thank you all so much for reading. If you liked the make sure you pressthat like button. so hit subscribe ifyou have not already and I will see you guys in that next one!