Objective assessment of sleep and fatigue risk in emergency medicine physicians

Acad Emerg Med. 2023 Mar;30(3):166-171. doi: 10.1111/acem.14606. Epub 2022 Nov 3.


Objectives: Fatigue is a state of physical and mental exhaustion in which people feel exhausted or drained of energy. Shift workers are highly vulnerable to fatigue, and this is especially true of emergency physicians (EPs). Shift scheduling (shift hours, frequency/length of breaks, time of shift, and number of hours off between shifts) can affect levels of fatigue in EPs. When EPs are fatigued, they experience decrements in cognition, resulting in an increased risk of errors. This study assessed the state of fatigue in EPs in the emergency department of a large, urban hospital using objective measures (sleep metrics and shift scheduling) over multiple months.

Methods: Seventeen EPs, nine females, wore wrist-activity monitors called ReadiBands for 2 months. The ReadiBand is an objective actigraphy measure that communicates with a smartphone application to quantify sleep metrics and predict future fatigue.

Results: Throughout the 3083 on-shift hours of data, analyses revealed that EPs have poor sleep quality (mean ± SD 7.71 ± 1.84/10) and sleep quantity (mean ± SD 6.77 ± 1.66 h), with sleep efficiency within "normal" ranges (mean ± SD 87.26 ± 9.00). Participants spent 725 h (23.52%) on shifts with fatigue scores indicative of significant impairment (equivalent to BAC of .08%). In addition, results indicated that shift type (day, evening, night) was significantly associated with fatigue score, where night shifts were associated with higher fatigue scores.

Conclusions: Fatigue is an issue for many EPs. The present study addressed the percentage of time EPs are in a fatigued state when on shift over an extended duration of time. More research is needed to examine system-level interventions for reducing fatigue in EPs.

Keywords: emergency medicine physician; fatigue; fatigue risk; shift work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Medicine*
  • Fatigue / diagnosis
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Physicians*
  • Sleep
  • Work Schedule Tolerance