Many critical care practitioners, like workers in other industries, sleep less than recommended amounts, in what is truly an epidemic of poor sleep in our modern industrialised society. The effects of sleep deprivation are serious and visible across all levels of our community. The actual proportion of people who can live on insufficient sleep is extremely low and the first step towards improvement is to recognise when our sleep tank is running on empty. Simple changes in daily habits based on optimizing sleep hygiene can lead to improved wellbeing and are highly likely to lead to profound improvements in physical, mental and emotional health and performance. Sleep quality may well be more important than sleep quantity. Shift work and the scheduling of multiple consecutive daily shifts are a serious impediment and must be considered carefully by our institutional managers. Taking naps is another seemingly simple but logistically challenging method to improve overall sleep. The bravado that sleep is not important needs to be carefully redirected in our hospitals as the health and performance improvements of practitioners seem likely to lead to greater work satisfaction, less burnout, improved teamwork and ultimately improved patient outcomes. Of course, if most of us need more sleep, and will benefit from doing so, just imagine what might happen if our patients could get more sleep.
Andrew Davies is an intensivist at Frankston Hospital in Melbourne. After a period of burnout 5 years ago, he now works half-time, has substantially reduced his academic load and recently gravitated to podcasting with the aim to inspire greater humanity in critical care (through the Mastering Intensive Care podcast) and greater health and wellbeing from lifestyle changes (through the New Normal Project podcast). He is passionate about his own plant-based, body-moving and mind-focused lifestyle which allows him to do endurance running and ocean swimming when he’s not hanging out with his wife and 2 teenage daughters.