Medical student education in sleep and its disorders is still meagre 20 years on: A cross-sectional survey of UK undergraduate medical education

J Sleep Res. 2020 Dec;29(6):e12980. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12980. Epub 2020 Mar 12.


Sleep is a pillar of health, alongside adequate nutrition and exercise. Problems with sleep are common and often treatable. Twenty years ago, UK medical school education on sleep disorders had a median teaching time of 15 min; we investigate whether education on sleep disorders has improved. This is a cross-sectional survey, including time spent on teaching sleep medicine, subtopics covered and forms of assessment. Thirty-four medical degree courses in the UK were investigated via a questionnaire. We excluded responses not concerned with general undergraduate education (i.e. optional modules). Twenty-five (74%) medical schools responded. Time spent teaching undergraduates sleep medicine was: median, 1.5 hr; mode, <1 hr; mean, 3.2 hr (SD = 2.6). Only two schools had a syllabus or core module (8%) and five (22%) were involved in sleep disorders research. Despite the above, half of the respondents thought provision was sufficient. Free-text comments had recurring themes: sleep medicine is subsumed into other specialties, obstructive sleep apnea dominates teaching, knowledge of sleep disorders is optional, and there is inertia regarding change. A substantial minority of respondents were enthusiastic about improving provision. In conclusion, little has changed over 20 years: sleep medicine is neglected despite agreement on its importance for general health. Sleep research is the exception rather than the rule. Obstacles to change include views that "sleep is not a core topic" or "the curriculum is too crowded". However, there is enthusiasm for improvement. We recommend establishment of a sleep medicine curriculum. Without better teaching, doctors will remain ill-equipped to recognize and treat these common conditions.

Keywords: United Kingdom; medical students; sleep medicine; syllabus; undergraduate education.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Curriculum / standards*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / standards*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Students, Medical
  • Time Factors
  • United Kingdom