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Last Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006, 00:43 GMT
Call to let doctors have work nap
Man sleeping
Naps could help doctors, the Lancet says
Junior doctors should be able to nap on nightshifts to help them cope with the work, the Lancet journal says.

The Lancet said naps were "back in fashion" and could help doctors stay alert.

The editorial was written following a guide produced by the Royal College of Physicians which said naps were a way of keeping refreshed during shift work.

Sleep experts agreed naps helped, but warned that for a few minutes after waking up people can feel groggy.

The Lancet recommendation follows a campaign by the British Medical Association to stop hospital bosses closing rest rooms attached to wards, in a bid to safeguard patient safety.

The on-call rooms, which contain a bed and shower, have traditionally been used by junior doctors during quiet times on night shifts.

Research has also revealed that for the few minutes following a sleep a person's capability can be compromised. The effect can be as bad as being legally drunk
Steven Emegbo, of the University of Surrey

But the BMA said scores of rooms had been closed in hospitals as part of cutbacks as new EU working time restrictions started.

Since the change in the law last year, the 42,000 UK junior doctors are limited to 58 hours a week - due to be reduced to 48 by 2009.

It has meant more night shifts and the Lancet suggested having naps may be a good way for doctors to cope.

The Royal College of Physicians guidance, produced by Nicholas Horrocks and Roy Pounder, said: "Naps are powerful means of staying refreshed, both before and while on duty, and even naps as short as 20 to 45 minutes have been shown to provide positive benefits to shift workers."

'Common sense'

The Lancet said doctors were in "urgent need" of advice in helping to cope with shift work.

"Patients will always need medical care at night. And doctor will always be needed to deliver that care.

"What this latest guidance provides is the kind of practical common sense, informed by science, that benefits both doctor and patient."

Steven Emegbo, a sleep physiologist at the University of Surrey, said evidence had shown that naps helped make up for lost sleep.

"They can help remedy sleep deprivation. Of course, it all depends on the individual and the amount of lost sleep they have had, but just by grabbing 15 to 20 minutes a person can feel restored.

"However, that comes with a warning. Research has also revealed that for the few minutes following a sleep a person's capability can be compromised.

"The effect can be as bad as being legally drunk, so if a doctor was making a life or death decision at that moment it would be dangerous."


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