The deleterious effects of sleep deprivation have been demonstrated in innumerable clinical studies. As such, its effects on clinicians charged with treating patients is beyond question. What is in question, however, is whether the effects of inadequate rest are matched (or even surpassed) by the effects of sleep aids on healthcare providers—including urgent care physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. Research published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine suggests it’s a question that needs answering—and fast—because the use of nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics among emergency physicians (many of whom may also be covering shifts in urgent care centers) is three- to four-times higher than it is in the general population. Pointing out that negative cognitive effects of sleep aid drugs can last for hours after the person taking them has woken up, an article posted on HealthLeaders recently recommended specific approaches to reduce use of sleep aids among emergency docs:
- Education—It may seem counterintuitive that physicians need to be educated on the effects of medications they might be prescribing for their patients, but consider that many might not be aware of behavioral alternatives to prescriptions. The National Institutes of Health, for example, has published a list of healthy methods to encourage restorative sleep on its website.
- Work schedules—Limiting night shifts and/or breaking them up so no one provider has to handle too many in a given month is a great start, the article says. Reconfiguring schedules so night shifts are shorter than typical day shifts—while paying the same rate as the longer day shifts—can help protect the circadian rhythm for those affected.
- New policies—Adopting rules that regulate how much rest physicians have to get between shifts—similar to current institutional policies limiting the hours doctors in training can work—can help ensure providers have the chance to be more refreshed when they’re seeing patients.
(By the way, adequate, restorative sleep isn’t essential just for clinicians. Watch next week for a new JUCM News web-exclusive on its benefits for effective leadership in the urgent care center.)