Anyone working long shifts knows the struggle — your head starts swimming, focus is lost, and general confusion can ensue. Now put yourself at the center of a bustling hospital or clinic and the importance of maintaining healthy sleep habits for doctors is completely obvious.
Though healthcare professionals should be the first to recommend a good night’s rest in advocacy of someone’s overall wellbeing, it seems that new graduates might find it harder to follow their own advice since the introduction of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s (ACGME) decision back in March of 2017.
Starting on July 1st of this year, rookie doctors will now be allowed to work 24-28 hour shifts without a break — increasing from the 16-hour cap previously. Despite how grueling medical school can be, this new requirement will surely be a sort of “baptism by fire” for those new to the field. Many are up in arms, feeling the decision is irresponsible and even a danger to public health.
Healthy Sleep Habits for Doctors
With many studies showing the ill-effects of sleep deprivation for healthcare workers — and especially young professionals — it seems like the right time to review some tips for healthy sleep habits for doctors.
1. A Sleepy Setting
Whether you’re working a traveling physician job or have found a long-term position, it’s important to have your sleep routine designed to fit with your current location and professional demands. Above all else, make sure when it’s finally time to get some shut-eye that your sleeping quarters are optimized for efficient rest. That could mean clearing all that laundry off your bed, having an automatic kettle brewing some calming tea, or just investing in some thick shades for the dead of night.
The last thing you want is to get off of a shift just to work for a bit of decent rest, so preparing your setting is the first tip for healthy sleep habits for doctors.
2. Cut Out Caffeine
Of course, coffee can be worth its weight in gold for many, but it doesn’t do much to help you power down when the time is right. Think about it — would you need coffee in the morning if you could just get some solid sleep? Could you get some rest if caffeine didn’t throw off your groove? While coffee and other caffeinated drinks can be the light in an endless shift, consider what caffeine alternatives are available that can promote better habits overall.
3. Track Your Circadian Rhythm
As a traveling physician, you’re likely to find yourself in new locations, time zones, and climates which can make honing in on your sleeping habits difficult. There are lots of great devices on the market, measuring anything from heart rate and bodily movements to neural activity and breath detection. With many devices connecting right to your smartphone or an accompanying app, getting some solid data on your rest cycle can be one of the most powerful starting places for developing healthy sleep habits for doctors.
4. Pull the Plug
Although it’s tempting to sink into your social media feeds or a riveting Netflix series, it’s best to avoid exposure to artificial light sources right before attempting to sleep. The spectrum of light produced by many modern electronic devices can actually inhibit the production of melatonin, a hormone regulating your sleep-wake cycle. Holding screens close to your face before sleep is essentially signaling to the brain that it’s time to get up instead of winding down. Try your best to abstain from exposing yourself to these devices at least an hour or two before bed.
With the ACGME’s decision soon coming into effect there’s still time to develop healthy sleep habits for doctors, traveling physicians, and especially for young graduates just entering the field. If you’re unable to sleep for reasons due to your current position, feel free to search for travel physician jobs and find a gig that will keep you healthy physically and professionally!