File this under “Seems obvious but still important”

This recent sleep study in Biological Psychology caught my eye: “Effects of pre-sleep simulated on-call instructions on subsequent sleep“. These guys studied people in a sleep laboratory and told them they would need to respond to a noise at some random time during the night (like a doctor who is on-call would have to). So the subjects went to sleep expecting that they would have to wake up sometime in the middle of the night to respond to a “call”. However, unbeknownst to the subjects, the researchers never planned on waking them with any noise, and let them sleep a normal night through.

Picture of a pager

I promise to beep the second you fall asleep. Photo: © Xmasbaby | Stock Free Images

You would probably guess that these people might subjectively have a worse night’s sleep. But the cool thing is that the researchers objectively noticed this, as well. The people expecting to be woken up had a longer time to fall asleep, woke up more times after falling asleep, and generally had lower sleep efficiency (the number of minutes of sleep divided by the number of minutes in bed).

Not really what you want for a doctor that might have to function the next day (and by function I mean do stuff like open heart surgery).


2 thoughts on “File this under “Seems obvious but still important”

    • Good question, and as far as I am aware no one has done studies on this kind of effect when it is repeated over time (unless anyone else knows of them…?). I can see it might have the “getting used to it” effect but it could also have detrimental (and serious) consequences from the chronic lack of quality sleep before they get used to it. (Also I assume that doctors are not on call *every* night so that would have to be taken into account – i.e., if it doesn’t happen regularly enough for them to get used to it.

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