Sleep: the simple answer to being a good clerk?

On our most recent podcast episode (to be released soon) with Dr. Justin Sanders, he told us that his best wellness tip for trainees in medicine was simple: to prioritize sleep. Even when there are tasks left on your to do list, or you feel like you haven’t been studying enough, prioritizing sleep can potentially transform your experience as a learner in medicine. What is the point of that extra hour of study when your brain is in no position to absorb or retain information?

Dr. Matt Walker, a professor of Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkley, has published over one hundred articles about the importance of sleep and its interaction with learning, mood, energy levels and diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. In his TED talk, Sleep is a Superpower, he describes how sleep actually prepares the brain for learning, allowing it to absorb new information and create memories. Sleep deprived individuals experience a 40% deficit in the capacity to make new memories when compared to those who are rested. In medicine, each day of a clinical rotation represents an opportunity to learn – without enough rest, we are in no position to do that.

However, more than just impacting your ability to learn, not getting enough sleep has been showed to derange the immune system, upregulating genes associated with stress which can act as a driver of various diseases (1,2,3). It also impacts our capacity to emotionally regulate – working in medicine requires constant navigation of complex socio-emotional scenarios, and without rest, we hinder our capacity to engage with our colleagues and our patients.

It might sound simple, but for some, getting a good night of sleep is no easy task. There are a multitude of things that may prevent one from sleeping. The following sleep hygiene steps from psychdb are a good place to start when getting restful sleep is an issue for you (5).

Sleep research continues to demonstrate that getting enough sleep is essential for our wellbeing. Given that our capacity to be present with our patients and colleagues relies on first taking care of ourselves, working towards a good night’s sleep is an excellent place to start!

  1. Tsereteli N, Vallat R, Fernandex-Tajes J, Delahanty LM, Ordovas JM, Drew DA, Valdes AM, Segata N, Chan AT, Wolf J, Berry SE, Walker MP, Spector TD, Franks PW. Impact of insufficient sleep on dysregulated blood glucose control under standardised meal conditions. Diabetologia. (2022) Feb; 65(2):356-365.
  2. Vallat R, shah VD, Redline S, Attia P, Walker MP. Broken sleep predicts hardened blood vessels. PLoS Biology. (2020) Jun; 18(6):e3000726.
  3. Mander BA, Winer JR, Jagust WJ, and Walker MP.  Sleep: A Novel Mechanistic Pathway, Biomarker, and Treatment Target in the Pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease? Trends in Neuroscience. (2016). 39:552-566.
  4. Simon EB, Vallat R, Barnes, CM, Walker MP. Sleep loss and the socio-emotional  brain. Trends in Cog Sci. (2020) Jun; 24(6):435-450.

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