Purpose. Physicians-in-training are susceptible to fatigue given their prolonged duty hours. Sleep deprivation has been shown to alter perceptions of sleepiness and performance. This study examined the state of sleepiness and attitudes about sleep and performance of work- and non–work-related tasks among incoming and current housestaff; and how rotation, call cycle, and call status are related to acute and chronic sleep deprivation and perceptions of sleepiness.
Method. A survey instrument was administered in June 2001 to 53 incoming interns and 79 current housestaff at the University Pennsylvania School of Medicine, a university-based internal medicine residency program.
Results. All 132 participants (100%) completed the instrument. Acute sleep deprivation was experienced by 34% of the current housestaff and 64% of current housestaff were chronically sleep deprived. Current housestaff admitted to the possibility of dozing while performing various work-related tasks such as writing notes in charts (69%), reviewing medication lists (61%), interpreting labs (51%), and writing orders (46%). At least half of all respondents felt their patients received good care despite residents’ sleepiness and as many believed sleep deprivation was a necessary part of training. Nearly half (48%) of current housestaff rotating on a ward service reported acute sleep deprivation, as did 81% of those who were postcall. Over two-thirds of the housestaff on wards and in the ICU reported chronic sleep deprivation. Subjective sleepiness did not vary much across rotations, call cycle, and call status.
Conclusion. Chronic and acute sleep deprivation contribute to residents’ fatigue. Education could be targeted at attitudes. Further investigation of factors contributing to chronic sleep deprivation in this population is warranted.