Given the choice between a well-rested surgeon and one who's been up half the night, nobody in their right mind would choose the latter, but a new study says it doesn't seem to make any difference at all to their performance. Researchers looked at almost 40,000 patients in Ontario, Canada, and found that among those who had daytime procedures carried out by a doctor who had worked sometime between midnight and 7am, the risk of complications was 22.2%, and the risk was an almost identical 22.4% among those whose doctors hadn't been working the night before, the Los Angeles Times reports. Sleep deprivation "can impair mood, cognitive performance, and psychomotor function," but apparently not among surgeons, the study authors write in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Lead researcher Dr. Nancy Baxter of the University of Toronto tells Reuters that while the study shows people probably don't need to worry if their specialist is short on sleep, she doesn't want it to be "open season" for doctors to work when fatigued "without understanding your abilities." She says the reason lack of sleep seems to make no difference may be because surgeons are good at regulating themselves and have enough experience to work when tired. The chief of the division of sleep disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, isn't convinced by the study: He tells Reuters that this study didn't actually measure how much sleep the surgeons actually got, and his own research has shown that complications soar when it's under six hours. (Read more surgery stories.)