Background: A purpose of duty-hour regulations is to reduce sleep deprivation in medical trainees, but their effects on sleep, sleepiness, and alertness are largely unknown.
Methods: We randomly assigned 63 internal-medicine residency programs in the United States to follow either standard 2011 duty-hour policies or flexible policies that maintained an 80-hour workweek without limits on shift length or mandatory time off between shifts. Sleep duration and morning sleepiness and alertness were compared between the two groups by means of a noninferiority design, with outcome measures including sleep duration measured with actigraphy, the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (with scores ranging from 1 [extremely alert] to 9 [extremely sleepy, fighting sleep]), and a brief computerized Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT-B), with long response times (lapses) indicating reduced alertness.
Results: Data were obtained over a period of 14 days for 205 interns at six flexible programs and 193 interns at six standard programs. The average sleep time per 24 hours was 6.85 hours (95% confidence interval [CI], 6.61 to 7.10) among those in flexible programs and 7.03 hours (95% CI, 6.78 to 7.27) among those in standard programs. Sleep duration in flexible programs was noninferior to that in standard programs (between-group difference, -0.17 hours per 24 hours; one-sided lower limit of the 95% confidence interval, -0.45 hours; noninferiority margin, -0.5 hours; P = 0.02 for noninferiority), as was the score on the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (between-group difference, 0.12 points; one-sided upper limit of the 95% confidence interval, 0.31 points; noninferiority margin, 1 point; P<0.001). Noninferiority was not established for alertness according to the PVT-B (between-group difference, -0.3 lapses; one-sided upper limit of the 95% confidence interval, 1.6 lapses; noninferiority margin, 1 lapse; P = 0.10).
Conclusions: This noninferiority trial showed no more chronic sleep loss or sleepiness across trial days among interns in flexible programs than among those in standard programs. Noninferiority of the flexible group for alertness was not established. (Funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and American Council for Graduate Medical Education; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT02274818.).
Copyright © 2019 Massachusetts Medical Society.