As physicians, and more specifically as radiologists, we all face the issue of sleep deprivation at one time or another. And, lack of sleep is unavoidable. Between late shifts, family issues, studying, and a late-night out with friends during the week, how does any of us get enough of it?
Moreover, we know that sleep has some potent effects on cognition and judgment. Just take a look at this link to an AJR article from 2008 about the liability of sleep deprivation. So, since we know lack of sleep is unavoidable and has potent effects, what techniques can you use to decrease its influence on you at nighttime? Let’s delve into some techniques I have used when I have been exhausted at work.
Know Your Stuff Cold
The more that you know search patterns reflexively, the more likely that you will not skip the findings, even when you are the most exhausted. Think of it as an insurance policy. When the eyes start to droop, the skills that you lose are those that are not second nature. So, take the time to learn radiology as you would understand the multiplication tables in elementary school. You should be able to spit out your search pattern as you look at the anatomy ad nauseum.
Also, make sure that you know all the most critical and common diseases that affect the population that your imaging cold. You are not going to have the wherewithal to look up everything when you are so tired that you barely keep your eyes open.
Concentrate Harder On The Key Elements
Pneumothorax, pneumothorax, pneumothorax. These words should be part of a mantra when you look at a chest film. And, that’s just one example. When you are sleepy, you want to concentrate very carefully on those entities that will make the most clinical difference for patient care. And, pneumothorax is one. But keep other critical diagnoses in mind when you are searching for findings on any new sort of study that you are reading.
Bounce Ideas Off Your Clinical Colleagues
If your mind is in a foggy rut from lack of sleep, sometimes it is helpful to talk to your clinical colleagues. That goes for both radiologists and non-radiologists alike to make sure you are keeping on the right track. Let me give you an example. Say you are staring at one site on a femur x-ray. And, you are not sure it might be either a fracture or a hallucinatory sleep-induced line. Well, give your ED doctors a call to find out if what you are looking at is even relevant to the case. Occasionally, another opinion can make the difference between a good and a bad call.
Take A Brisk Walk For A Few Minutes
When you are already sleepy, sometimes stagnation in a chair can lead to even more exhaustion. If so, think about getting up out of your seat and taking a brief walk for a few minutes. Sometimes, a brief interlude is all you need to rejuvenate your mind once again and get the adrenaline going.
Coffee (For Those That Can Handle It)
I am not saying that you should become a coffee fiend, relying on it until you get the jitters. Or, if you tend to go into cardiac arrhythmias, you should stay away. But, a dose or two at your most fatigued point, can help you to stay awake when you can’t seem to read the films. Plus, research has shown that coffee gives you some health benefits. Just take a gander at this article in Inc.!
Take A Five Minute Nap
Now, I am not suggesting that you should shirk your duties. That would be a disaster. Instead, if you get a moment, sometimes a five-minute nap can rejuvenate your mind to get back to a place where you can concentrate again on the work. Hell, it may save you time during the remainder of the night if it helps you to stay awake.
Sleep Deprivation Is Not Optimal, But We Need To Get Through It!
We live in an imperfect world. And, we participate in an error-prone specialty. Adding to the issues, we are forced to work when we are most exhausted. So, just don’t let the sleepiness take over. Fight back. Try some of these techniques to get you through the night. It may make the difference between a decent and hellish night!