SAN DIEGO – If you feel sleepy and out of sorts on a post-call day, compared with a normal work day, you’re not alone.
Anesthesiology faculty reported significant increases in feeling irritable, jittery, and sleepy, along with significant decreases in feeling confident, energetic, and talkative following an on-call period, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
To date, most studies of partial sleep deprivation in health care settings have focused on residents and interns, and less on medical faculty, said lead study author Dr. Haleh Saadat of the department of anesthesiology and pain medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “Our call is 17 hours, from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m.; but the call period at most hospitals is 24 hours, and even longer at some private practices,” she said in an interview.
To examine the effects of partial sleep deprivation on reaction time, simple cognitive skills , and mood status in 21 anesthesiologists, Dr. Saadat and her associates obtained verbal consent from the study participants and measured reaction time, mood states, and eight subjective behavioral characteristics at two different time points: between 6:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. on a regular noncall day of work, and between 6:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. after an overnight call (a shift that runs from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m.). The behavioral characteristics included feeling alert, energetic, anxious, confident, irritable, jittery/nervous, sleepy, and talkative, and the researchers used paired t-tests to compare variable means between regular sleep days and post-call days.
Reaction time decreased in all 21 subjects after night call, indicating worse performance (P = 0.047), while total mood disturbance was significantly higher on post-call days, relative to noncall days (P less than 0.001).
Of the 21 anesthesiologists, 19 completed all simple cognitive task questions at both time points and reported significant increases in several of these parameters on post-call days, compared with normal work days.
Post-call observations found participants feeling more irritable, confident, energetic, sleepy (P less than .001), feeling more jittery (P = .003), and feeling less talkative (P less than .001) than on normal work days.
Coping strategies used to address their sleep deprivation were measured as well, with “most of our subjects using problem solving, followed by seeking social support and avoidance,” Dr. Saadat noted. “People who used avoidance had greater declines in reaction time on post-call days, compared with the rest of the study participants. It didn’t matter whether you were male, female, younger, or older.”
Dr. Saadat called for additional studies to evaluate the neurocognitive impact of partial sleep deprivation on physicians’ on-call duties.
“I would like to see if we can replicate the results in bigger centers,” she said. “If this is what is happening, we may need to pay more attention to faculty’s work hours in both academic and private practice settings – not only among anesthesiologists, but also in other specialties. These observations require a closer look at the potential implications for patients’ and professionals’ safety.”
The researchers reported no financial disclosures.