Conquering Chronos Can Medicos Really Do It All?

Written By: Dr. Anjali Mediboina, House Surgeon, ASRAM

    As a medico, time feels like our biggest enemy. We need to go to class, study, hang out with friends, keep in touch with family, and, for hostlers, you’ve got your daily load of chores as well. Not to mention, if you’re an overachiever like me, with deep involvement in student organization(s), then you have to balance those tasks as well.

Research shows that medical students usually have poor sleep quality, which in turn can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, poorer academic performance and stress[1]. A meta-analysis by Seone et al. reviewed 41 papers, of which 20 papers contained data on the association of sleep quality and academic performance[2]. Poor sleep quality was reported by 5646 out of 14,170 students in 29 studies, insufficient sleep duration by 3762/12,906 students in 28 studies and excessive diurnal sleepiness by 1324/3688 students in 13 studies.

Now, medicos not sleeping is common knowledge. In fact, children studying for 16 or so hours a day without any breaks or sleep is a matter of pride for most Indian parents. But have you ever thought about why sleep is important for proper functioning of the human body?

Here’s what happens to the human body without sleep:

In the first 24 hours, you’d be fine; sleeplessness would stimulate the mesolimbic pathway in the brain, which causes the release of dopamine. You’d feel happy and energetic.

After these 24 hours, your brain starts to slow down, and the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making and planning start to shut down, causing impulsiveness. Your  movements would become exhausted, sluggish and lethargic and cognitive impairment would also occur.

At 48-72 hours of no sleep, glucose metabolism shuts down initially, followed by protein metabolism. Soon, all energy sources become depleted, and by the end of the third day, you’d start hallucinating.

By the second week, the immune system would become extremely weak, making you prone to infections, and by the third week, your organs would start shutting down, and death may occur due to heart failure[3].

I find it ironic how we tend to associate less sleep with more productivity, when research clearly proves otherwise. So, how can we medicos do it all, while getting enough rest?

1. Scheduling and Spreadsheets are your best friend.

    Personally, the main problem I faced during my last two years was trying to balance the work in my student organization and studies; my anxiety usually stemmed from the fear of forgetting to do my tasks, and the guilt of not studying enough. I then realized that striking off all the tasks in a spreadsheet or journal helped me a lot; crossing off something in your list is super satisfying, and it not only made me organized, but also efficient. I set a schedule- from 6 to 8 in the evening, I would finish up all extracurriculars and then 9 to 12, I would study.

2.  Group Studies or Study Buddies

    I would definitely tell my younger medico-self to find a study buddy or try to group study with friends. This would make it feel like you were spending time together, while also studying. And, having a study partner will hold you accountable and help in finishing your portions in time. I also noticed that it’s always easier to recall the answers you discussed with your friends during an exam.

    3. Take a break

    Set aside at least one day a week to just take a break. Do some self-care, watch a movie, read a book- whatever. Burnout is also another common problem for medicos, and it’s really important to take a breather and refresh.

Remember, it’s all about balance. As Oprah Winfrey said,

“I’ve learned that you can’t have everything

and do everything at the same time.”

I firmly believe that even medicos, with our hectic schedules, can create a proper schedule; one that includes sleep, socializing recreation. It’s all about learning to prioritize and knowing yourself and your limits.

References:

1. Alsaggaf MA, Wali SO, Merdad RA, Merdad LA. Sleep quantity, quality, and insomnia symptoms of medical students during clinical years: relationship with stress and academic performance. Saudi medical journal. 2016 Feb;37(2):173.

2. Seoane HA, Moschetto L, Orliacq F, Orliacq J, Serrano E, Cazenave MI, Vigo DE, Perez-Lloret S. Sleep disruption in medicine students and its relationship with impaired academic performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2020 Oct 1;53:101333.

3. Poll G. What Would Happen to Your Body If You Stopped Getting Any Sleep? [Internet]. INSH. 2018 [cited 14 February 2022]. Available from: https://insh.world/science/what-would-happen-to-your-body-if-you-stopped-getting-any-sleep/

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