According to the American Medical Student Association, residents sometimes work 100-120 hours a week in 24- and 36-hour shifts. Some have reported making mistakes with medication, falling asleep while driving home, and experiencing health problems, such as depression. The bill would limit residents to 80 hours per week with at least 10 hours off between shifts, among other provisions.
Recent research suggests that if sleep deprivation is long-term — whether because of lifestyle choices or sleep disorders — it may increase the severity of age-related chronic disorders such as diabetes and high blood pressure. In a study published in the Oct. 23, 1999, issue of The Lancet, Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, led researchers who restricted 11 young men to four hours of sleep for six nights, and then recorded their bodily functions. The researchers then allowed the same young men to spend 12 hours in bed per night for six nights, and compared their bodily functions to those recorded earlier. The researchers found negative effects on metabolic and endocrine functions when the men were sleep-deprived similar to those seen in older people as a result of normal aging.
In another study, published in the Sept. 25, 2002, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Van Cauter and colleagues found a marked decrease in the response to flu vaccination in young, healthy people who were immunized after four days of sleep restriction, compared with those whose sleep was unrestricted.
“There’s a need to look at sleep on the same level of importance as diet and exercise,” says Carl Hunt, M.D., director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, part of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “All three are equally important for good health.”