The Importance of Sleep for Medical Students

It’s no secret that students are victim to sleep deprivation, and that couldn’t be truer for medical students. From years of medical school, and all-nighters before a big exam, to long rotation schedules– it’s easy to get caught up in a sleepless cycle. 

Admittedly, many medical professionals condition students to accept sleeplessness as a way of life in their career, as 80-hour weeks are not unusual but can be expected during your residency. After all, sleep is a luxury that hardworking professionals can never afford, right? Wrong. In fact, research often supports the idea that more sleep can lead to more success and better performance in your career. A recent study which evaluated the sleeping habits of 61 Harvard students found that students who had more regular sleep patterns had better average grades in school. 

Additionally, some of the world’s most successful people have strict sleeping schedules and bed time rituals. So, before you consider pulling your next all-nighter, read on to find out exactly why sleep is critical to your success in medical school, and as a doctor. 

Importance of Sleep While Studying

Sleeplessness in Academia 

As a medical student, you may find yourself juggling a demanding schedule – which can take a toll on both your mental and physical well-being if you’re not giving yourself adequate time to rest. Lack of sleep can not only negatively impact how you look and feel, but it can inhibit your ability to process learned information throughout the day and affect your memory –not ideal for a student who spends hours a day taking in new information. 

The needed amount of sleep for the average person is 7-9 hours each night, however a recent survey of college students found that less than a third of students get the recommended hours of sleep needed each night. The survey also found that on average, students sleep in class 12 times a year – and students studying health related fields slept in class more often, on nearly 14 occasions each semester – a statistic future patients would find unsettling. 

Doctors & Sleep 

The importance of sleep becomes even more important as you continue through your education and ultimately become a medical doctor. As a doctor, you cannot afford to dose off while on duty and pose a risk to your patients or even to yourself. Another study revealed that physicians are not getting enough sleep to function at their best, and found that 43.1% indicated their current work schedule did not allow for adequate sleep.  

The Effects of Lack of Sleep in Students: 

Poor Concentration: Medicine is a highly engaging profession that requires an enhanced ability to grasp and process complex information. You will need to develop sustained concentration levels in your studies, or even more when attending to patients. If you fail to get enough sleep, you will likely not be able to remember lectures or your notes when studying, because you are limiting your brains ability to store away important information.  

Anxiety and Depression: Sleep disruption has a negative effect on neurotransmitters and increases the production of stress hormones. This impairs critical thinking as well as the regulation of emotions. In turn, psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and depression, are amplified by impulsive behavior other heightened symptoms. Sleep can not only prevent psychiatric symptoms, but lessens them. 

Increases Stress: A common obstacle for medical students is stress – stress over their schedule, rotation, exams, etc. You may have noticed that the more you lack sleep, the more irritable or prone to stressors you become; you may find that you react negatively even to minor interruptions and annoyances throughout the day. When you get proper rest, you tend to be able to deal with and manage your emotions better. 

Tips to Getting Quality Sleep Each Night

While medical institutions have made some interventions to try to improve sleep deprivation and the overall health of its medical students and professionals, it is up to the individual to make self-care a priority each day. After all, taking good care of yourself will help you take better care of your patients. Below are a few techniques to try to get the most out of your sleeping hours:  


Working out for as little as 10 minutes can lower your insomnia. In fact, it has proven to be better than sleeping pills, which have a way of creating dependence. However, timing is important if you want to get the best out of your workouts. Ideally, you should try to do it at least 1-2 hours before bedtime, which gives the body enough time to wind down.  

Keep a Schedule

Create a plan of how you’re going to spend each day if you want to take some of the stress out of your studies.  Develop a schedule for tackling your studies, time for exercise, and set a regular bedtime; and make it a point to do this every day until it becomes your lifestyle. If you find it hard to sleep for extended hours, break it down to short naps throughout the day. 

Watch What You Consume

Avoid drinking beverages with caffeine, like coffee, especially when it is almost time for bed.  Caffeine locks out the receptors responsible for helping the brain to fall asleep. Excessive consumption of alcohol can also interfere with your sleep patterns. Instead, you can opt for foods like almonds, bananas, and chamomile tea, which help to promote sleep. 

Many of your colleagues may equate a lack of sleep with productivity. However, the body will always find it hard to work at optimal strength when you’re sleep-deprived. To reap the benefits of your hard work in med school, you need to make time for quality sleep. Getting enough sleep will increase your mood and concentration.

For more ways to be successful and healthy in your medical career visit:

Contributed by Christine Huegel at Mattress Advisor