Study Finds Surgical Performance Unaffected by Lack of Sleep

In a study that may be of interest to Connecticut readers, researchers found that lack of sleep the night before does not have an effect on the performance of doctors performing elective surgery the next day. The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Aug. 26.

Researchers at the University of Toronto examined 39,000 surgical cases performed by 1,448 experienced surgeons from 147 hospitals in Ontario over a five-year period. A billing code informed researchers if the physician had worked the midnight shift the night before the operation. The results showed that the odds of a patient experiencing a surgery-related problem were 22.2 percent when the physician worked from midnight to 7 a.m. the night before and 22.4 percent when the doctor had the night off. Thirty days after the surgery, the odds of a patient dying were 1.1 percent whether or not the doctor had worked the midnight shift before performing the procedure.

However, researchers not connected to the Toronto study note that it did not actually measure how much sleep the surgeons received, which is an important distinction. A 2009 study conducted at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that sleep deprivation by surgeons causes the risk of a medical error to triple. There have been proposals for doctors to inform patients if they are sleep-deprived before performing a procedure. The lead author of the Toronto study believes such proposals are unnecessary, but the lead author of the Boston study believes patients have a right to know.

People who have been the victim of a surgical error caused by lack of sleep may benefit by speaking with an attorney about their legal options. It may be advisable to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the responsible party seeking compensation for the damages that have been sustained.