A Doc's Life: Long Hours, Little Sleep

Just Like the Rest of the Country, Doctors Work Long Hours, Skimp on Sleep

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 04, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

March 4, 2008 -- Doctors may not be much better than their patients at getting enough sleep, a new poll shows.

The poll comes from the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP). The ACCP includes all chest medicine disciplines, including pulmonology, cardiology, and, yes, sleep medicine.

Some 5,000 ACCP members were invited to participate in the poll, which was posted from mid-December to early January on the ACCP's web site; 581 doctors did so.

The poll focuses on juggling work and sleep, much like the National Sleep Foundation's 2008 Sleep in America poll, which showed long work hours and sleep shortfalls in the general public.

The bottom line: Doctors aren't necessarily sleeping better than anyone else, and they may be leaning on caffeine more to power through their long days.

Here's a quick look at the typical days -- and nights -- of the doctors who completed the poll:

  • Start work from 7-9 a.m. and finish from 5-8 p.m.
  • Get 6.5 hours of sleep on work nights and an extra hour of sleep on days off.
  • Wish for 30 to 90 minutes of more sleep.
  • Drink three caffeinated beverages a day but call this a "habit," not a way to "keep awake."

The poll also shows that 93% of doctors report caffeine use, compared with 82% of people who took part in the National Sleep Foundation poll.

Reports of sleep problems were rare in the ACCP poll. But nearly 30% of the doctors indicated that they don't feel refreshed when they wake up and 43% say their work schedule doesn't let them get enough sleep.

Most doctors said sleepiness didn't interfere with their work. But 10% said sleepiness was a problem for them at least a few days per week and 27% admitted dozing or napping at work sometime during the previous month.

Being on call overnight was a sleep wrecker, which was no surprise to the ACCP. And just like people who aren't doctors, some physicians cited family, social, and volunteer commitments that kept them up.

"Self sacrifice also may be seen as part of the lifestyle," Barbara Phillips, MD, FCCP, chairwoman of the ACCP Sleep Institute and an organizer of the poll, says in a news release.

It's not clear if the doctors who completed the poll are representative of other ACCP members or doctors from other specialties.