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What's Wrong With 3 Hours of Sleep? Sheila M. Bigelow, DO

By Med stu - Monday, February 10, 2014 1 Comment

What's Wrong With 3 Hours of Sleep?


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Question

Response from Sheila M. Bigelow, DO
Resident Physician -- Pediatrics, UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio
Who Needs Sleep, Anyway?
Make Sleep a Priority
Isn't it best for med students to get used to sleep deprivation to train for being on-call?
Medical school has been described as trying to drink from a fire hose. There is just so much information being thrown at you and so many demands from exams, clinical rotations, presentations, and research that it can begin to feel like there is never enough time in the day to get it all done. If you want to have any personal or family life, you start to think that unless you cut out sleep, you are not going to get it all done. Particularly at peak busy times, like before big exams, boards, or presentations, it might be tempting to pull an all-nighter or at least severely restrict your sleep to just an hour or two. Some might even argue that it is good preparation for the inevitable calls to be taken in residency. However, I would argue against that thought process and say that this is the time to learn how to balance it all in a productive, healthy way.


Sleep does many good things for you and your body. It is a restorative time both physically and mentally, and who in medical school doesn't need some mental and physical restoration? During sleep your brain doesn't just turn off and become useless. The brain uses this time to organize all that great information you learned about the Kreb cycle during the day and increases your learning of those tough subjects.
Medical school and the associated stress can worsen in a sleep-deprived state. Who doesn't become a little bit snappier or stressed when working hard on 3 hours of sleep vs a full 8 hours? Ask a new mother how she feels a few weeks after her newborn's birth, and she will probably admit to being sleep deprived and stressed at times.
Last but not least, lack of sleep is linked with all sorts of health problems including, but not limited to, heart disease, heart failure, arrythmias, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. I don't know about you, but the idea of being a failing, depressed medical student with hypertension is not appealing to me, so I would vote for getting a full night of sleep; what do you think? Check out this article for more information about how good sleep is for you.

Now I understand that it's not easy to get a good night's rest in medical school. There are many different forces pulling you in all sorts of directions. The first step is making sleep a priority. Don't just fit it in where you can; make a deliberate decision to get a healthy amount of sleep each night. Try treating your body the way it deserves to be treated. Eating healthy and exercising will also make you feel better overall and go hand-in-hand with a good sleep routine. Perhaps the nights staying up to 3:00 AM hanging out with your friends and eating greasy pizza can continue, but on a limited basis, and planned ahead.
This is the time to learn how to say, "no." Residency applications are going to be here before you know it, so adding more research, volunteer, or tutoring time may be tempting, but do not do everything you are asked to do just because you are asked. Take time to think about which projects best represent your interests. Doing a few things really well instead of doing a bunch of things at a bare minimum level is often the better decision. It can be hard, but when it comes to friends and family, the word "no" can also apply. Of course it is important to make time for your loved ones, but maybe it is not necessary to go to every karaoke event with your friends, especially the night before your big exam when you should really be getting a good night of sleep.
Medical school is hard -- really hard -- but it is important to not lose your best interests in the process. Medical school is like a huge puzzle, and you have to figure out how to fit all of those pieces together while keeping yourself intact. Sleep is a huge piece of this puzzle and should not get shorted.

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