Does My Emergency Department Doctor Sleep? The Trouble With Recovery From Night Shift

J Emerg Med. 2019 Aug;57(2):162-167. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2019.04.023. Epub 2019 Jun 29.


Background: Previous research has shown that emergency physicians have an increased risk of shift work sleep disorder, potentially compromising their health, wellness, and effectiveness as a physician.

Objectives: This study explores the effect of shift work on sleep in emergency doctors. The hypothesis of the evaluation is that daytime sleep onset would lead to the poorest sleep, implying poor recovery after a night shift.

Methods: Sleep patterns were examined in emergency physicians in an academic emergency department. Twenty-seven individuals completed data collection, wearing wrist actigraphy devices over 3 months. Time of sleep onset was categorized as falling into 1 of 3 ranges: interval 1-day sleepers (6:00 am-2:00 pm), interval 2-evening sleepers (2:00 pm-10:00 pm), or interval 3-night sleepers (10:00 pm-6:00 am). Data from each interval were analyzed for median duration, sleep latency, and night-time interruptions.

Results: Daytime sleep sessions had a median total sleep duration of 5.3 ± 2 h, much less than 7.3 ± 1.8 h (interval 2-evening), and 7.0 ± 1.1 h (interval 3-night). Interval 2 sleepers experienced the highest number of nightly awakenings (1.5) and the longest sleep latency (36.5 min). Day sleepers (interval 1), assumed to be predominantly physicians recovering from night shifts, had significantly less sleep than both evening and night sleepers (p < 0.01), experiencing a 23.0% decrease in overall median sleep duration.

Conclusions: This study provides statistical findings that those working the night shift experience significantly less sleep than emergency physicians working other shifts.

Keywords: alertness; emergency medicine; shift work; shift work sleep disorder; sleep.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data*
  • Polysomnography / methods
  • Polysomnography / statistics & numerical data
  • Shift Work Schedule / adverse effects
  • Shift Work Schedule / psychology
  • Sleep Disorders, Circadian Rhythm / etiology
  • Sleep Disorders, Circadian Rhythm / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires