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How Much Sleep Do Doctors Get? (1000+ Doctors Surveyed)

How Much Sleep Do Doctors Get? (1000+ Doctors Surveyed)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Before going to medical school, I feel like all I heard about was how little sleep I was going to get as a doctor.

Having now worked as a doctor for a couple of years, I was curious to survey my colleagues to get to the bottom of much sleep doctors actually get.

The majority of doctors sleep 6-8 hours each night. Of over 1000 doctors surveyed, only 16.7% said they could only sleep 4-6 hours each night, while 2.3% of respondents slept for fewer than 4 hours a night. Therefore, despite hectic days at work, most doctors seem to be able to get sufficient rest.

As a junior doctor, I’ve regularly been able to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. But I wanted to make sure I wasn’t a complete outlier!

In this article, I’m going to break down the results of the survey as well as looking at how much sleep surgeons and even medical students get.

How Many Hours Of Sleep Do Doctors Get?

As a junior doctor, I’ve never had to stay so late at work that meant I wasn’t going to get at least 8 hours in bed before needing to be in the next morning.

But that’s not what you hear and see in popular culture! To make sure I wasn’t a very lucky fringe case, I asked over 1000 other junior doctors how much they slept on average. Here are the results:

Hours of SleepPercentage of Respondents
Less than 42.3%
More than 100.9%

As you can see, the majority fall into the 6-8 hours category. Which exactly matches the 8 hours I’ve been able to nab each night.

Interestingly, if we were to plot this data on a graph there’d be an almost perfect bell curve considering both the ‘4-6 hour’ category and ‘8-10 hour’ category both had about 16% of the respondents select them.

An important differentiation to make here is I’m describing how many hours of sleep junior doctors are able to get. I’ve been kept awake by noisy neighbours during the day after a night shift plenty of times. But it wasn’t my physical working hours that meant I could only spend 3 hours in bed!

Toddlers, social events and other distractions can all work together to make sure a doctor doesn’t get enough sleep.

But surprisingly, this poll shows that contrary to popular opinion for the majority of time, working in medicine doesn’t negatively affect how much sleep you can get.

A factor in this will undoubtedly be how much a doctor is working. This article includes real-life figures as to how many hours doctors work and what effects them.

How Do Doctors Deal With Sleep Deprivation?

As a result of working long, busy days, with differing shift patterns, there will be times that as a doctor you’ll be incredibly tired.

So, how do doctors deal with this sleep deprivation while still delivering high-quality care?

Doctors deal with sleep deprivation by increasing their caffeine intake, taking short naps when they’re not busy and as a result of practice. Patients can become unwell at any time of the day so it’s imperative doctors are still able to function despite a lack of sleep.

Unfortunately, there is no magic technique that means we can work non-stop with very little sleep.

You won’t be surprised to learn that coffee plays a very important role in the hospital. As a pick-me-up during a busy day, for impromptu team meetings in the café and as a way of keeping your eyes open during a long night shift.

Two doctors having a quick cup of coffee in the hospital canteen

This observational study in the BMJ found that 84% of doctors purchased coffee at one of the hospital canteens resulting in 70,772 coffees being consumed in the year they collected data!

If you’re really struggling or it’s a quiet night, there are also often rooms you can sleep in in the hospital. Overnight, nurses are then able to page you if they need you to review a patient which will wake you up.

The reality is though that doctors do often have to work when very tired. Which does make you more prone to errors.

As a doctor, it’s then very important to recognise when you’re overtired, so that you can take extra care on key tasks so that you don’t make silly mistakes.

Do Doctors Sleep At The Hospital?

Hospitals don’t just close overnight. There needs to be staff, including doctors and nurses, available at every time of the day. So, to achieve this, you may be wondering if doctors sleep at the hospital?

Doctors often sleep at the hospital. This can both be in an on-call room or in formal hospital accommodation. On-call rooms are used by doctors to sleep in overnight when they’re not busy during a night shift whereas hospital accommodation is booked in a similar manner to a hotel.

I’ve spent a fair few nights under a thin blanket in the doctor’s mess trying to get some shut-eye. It really isn’t a comfortable experience as you always have to have your ears trained for the ‘beep beep’ of your pager signalling that you’re needed on the ward.

Many nightshifts I’ve done have been far too busy for me to have the chance to get my head down. But getting a quick nap in can be an absolute life-saver in terms of giving you a bit of an energy and focus boost during a long shift.

(If you’re not sure what being on-call means then I explain the concept in this article here.)

A lot of hospitals do also have more formal accommodation on site. This isn’t for putting your feet up mid-shift but rather as a place for staff to stay.

Doctors might use it if they’ve just moved hospital and haven’t sorted out accommodation in the new location yet, as a way of avoiding a long commute or just because it’s incredibly convenient.

Some specialty doctors may also stay there if they’re ‘on-call.’ This isn’t the same concept as a junior doctor being ‘on-call’ to cover the ward overnight but rather that if in the unlikely event their specialist opinion is needed overnight, then they’re nearby if they need to come in.

How Much Sleep Do Surgeons Get?

In medicine, surgeons are often seen as the doctors who spend the longest in the hospital. They’ve got to see their patients in the morning, spend all day in the operating theatre then write up the day’s notes in the evening.

As a result of all this, does their work reduce the number of hours surgeons are able to sleep?

The majority of surgeons are able to sleep 6-8 hours per night. This sleep can be interrupted however if the surgeon is on-call. When on-call, surgeons have to be prepared to carry out emergency operations no matter what time it is.

In surgery, if a patient needs an emergency operation then they need it now. And if you’re the only person in the hospital who can perform that operation then that means you need to do it.

Surgeons are also more likely to stay late than other specialties. That’s because unlike on the ward, you can’t just hand a job over to a colleague who’s just come on shift. If you’re midway through performing an operation then you need to finish it!

Two surgeons performing an operation

Sleep deprivation does also have its impact on patients. This study on sleep in surgeons concluded that tasks with a higher cognitive demand showed significant levels of diminished performance. I.e. surgeons performed worse on more difficult tasks when tired such as intricate operations.

Surgeons do likely get slightly less sleep than other medical specialties but intense periods of work, such as being on-call, only last for short periods of time in the grand scheme of things.

If all this has got you thinking about what impact working medicine can have on your life, then I explore whether doctors have time for things outside of work in this article here.

How Many Hours Of Sleep Do Medical Students Get?

Having been a medical student for five years, with the majority of my friends at university also studying medicine, I think I can confidently shed some light on how much sleep medical students get.

Medical students are able to sleep at least 8 hours each night. Medical training in the UK will never result in students being unable to get sufficient rest. Many medical students do however sleep less than this as a result of personal choice: whether that be partying or last-minute revision for an exam.

That might be surprising to you considering how hard work everyone says medical school is. But I honestly believe in my five years there was never a reason, directly related to the course, that meant I couldn’t sleep.

Now to be clear, that’s not the same as me saying I slept at least 8 hours every night! It’s just that when I didn’t, it was my own fault…

I’m not denying medical school is hard work. It is and you can find out exactly how hard it is here. But there’ll never be a scenario where you have to be in the hospital till midnight then in at 7 the next morning.

As to the actual number of hours a medical student might sleep then I imagine it will be almost identical to any university student. So about 4 if they go out clubbing then have a 9am lecture the next morning!

Final Thoughts

Any doctor will tell you that there have been times that they were so tired in work that they could hardly keep their eyes open.

But this isn’t the day-to-day experience.

Working in medicine can be incredibly draining but every doctor will also tell you that it’s completely worth it.

I wouldn’t let the idea of not being able to sleep enough put you off from going to medical school. Because for the majority of your time you’ll be able to get as much sleep as you want.

And anyway, you’ll also get some experiences you can brag to your friends about how hard your job is and how heroic you are as a junior doctor!

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.