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Sleep and Fatigue Countermeasures for the Neurology Resident and Physician

Avidan, Alon Y. MD, MPH, FAASM

doi: 10.1212/01.CON.0000427205.67811.08
Practice Issues

Purpose of Review: Fragmented sleep, prolonged work hours, misalignment of sleep-wake cycles, and an expectation to make medical decisions when alertness levels are reduced are pervasive in neurology residency training. Sleep loss in residency training can lead to cognitive and psychosocial impairment and accidents, compromise patient care, and reduce the trainee’s quality of life. Neurology residents experience levels of hypersomnolence similar to residents in surgical specialties and have comparable subjective levels of sleepiness as persons with pathologic sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea. Over the past 2 decades, work-hour limitations were established to alleviate fatigue and sleepiness. However, the implementation of work-hour limitations alone does not guarantee alleviation of fatigue and may be insufficient without additional key measures to prevent, counteract, and control sleepiness when it strikes. This article provides effective strategies to combat sleepiness, such as modification of the on-call structure (night float), power naps, and caffeine, in neurologists in training and those who are at risk for excessive sleepiness.

Recent Findings: Despite two specific work-hour restrictions set by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the most recent in July 2011, little data exist about the efficacy of work-hour restrictions alone in improving fatigue and sleepiness. Curtailed work hours, while appearing attractive on the surface, have important financial, educational, and patient care imperfections and fail to address the core issue—sleepiness.

Summary: Historically, sleepiness and fatigue place both residents and patients at risk. Excessive sleepiness in residency training occurs because of sleep deprivation and a spectrum of other factors, such as mood disorders or even the anxiety of anticipating being woken up. An effective model to counteract sleep deprivation and its consequences is a multiplayer approach that uniquely targets and addresses the needs of all the stakeholders. A sleep medicine perspective is proposed along with other interventions to prevent adverse consequences.

Address correspondence to Dr Alon Y. Avidan, UCLA Department of Neurology, 710 Westwood Blvd, Room 1-169 RNRC, Los Angeles, CA 90095-6975,

Relationship Disclosure: Dr Avidan is a member of the speakers bureaus of GlaxoSmithKline, Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and UCB, and serves as a consultant for Merck & Co. Inc.

Unlabeled Use of Products/Investigational Use Disclosure: Dr Avidan reports no disclosure.

© 2013 American Academy of Neurology
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