Surgeons in training often work long hours and are not able to sleep as
much as they would necessarily like. A new study indicates that this lack
of rest may increase the number of dangerous surgical errors.

The authors of the study, recently published in the
Archives of Surgery, polled orthopedic residents at two Boston-area hospitals. The residents
reported that, on average, they got about five and a half hours of sleep
each night. Researchers found that residents’ impairment due to
fatigue during waking hours was the equivalent of being legally drunk
about 25 percent of the time. Overall, the residents participating in
the study were found to be functioning only at 70 percent of their mental
effectiveness during 27 percent of the time they were awake.

It is difficult to draw a definitive conclusion from the study because
only 27 residents participated. Researchers hope, however, that the information
they have collected will help surgical departments to develop intervention
plans to prevent fatigued surgeons from performing procedures. Doing so
just may save lives.

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