Influence of sleep deprivation on learning among surgical house staff and medical students

Surgery. 1994 May;115(5):604-10.


Background: Sleep deprivation as a result of in-house night call may alter capacity to learn. Surgical residents and medical students, in both sleep-deprived and rested states, read surgical journal articles and later answered questions regarding their content as a measure of ability to learn while participating in scheduled night call.

Methods: Medical students (n = 35) and residents (n = 21) rotating on surgical services kept logs of hours slept during a 4-week study period. Subjects read six selected articles at separate early morning sittings during weeks 1 and 3. A multiple choice test was given 1 week after each session to assess short-term recall, and all tests were given again 3 months later to assess retention of information over the longer term. Scores were compared with the sleep data. Subjective measures of fatigue and motivation elicited from subjects also were evaluated.

Results: Sleep deprivation (4 hours or less uninterrupted sleep per night) resulted in increased fatigue and decreased motivation among medical students and residents (p < 0.05, t test). Objective scores on tests administered 1 week and 3 months after reading did not show an effect attributable to sleep deprivation (p > 0.05, t test).

Conclusions: Sleep deprivation leads to subjective feelings of increased fatigue and decreased motivation. Residents and medical students, however, whether sleep deprived or not, obtain comparable scores on objective tests measuring both short-term and long-term retention of newly learned material. The ability to learn medically relevant information does not appear to be significantly altered by the degree of sleep deprivation associated with clinical rotations on surgical services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • General Surgery*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Learning*
  • Mental Recall
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sleep Deprivation*
  • Students, Medical*