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'Protected Power Naps' Could Help Keep Medical Interns Alert: Study
Date:12/5/2012

TUESDAY, Dec. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Giving medical interns "protected" sleep periods when they're working long shifts is feasible and helps boost their mental alertness, a new study finds.

"Within the last two years, we've seen sweeping changes in guidelines regulating the number of hours that first-year residents can work as they continue their medical training," lead study author Dr. Kevin Volpp, professor of medicine and health care management at the University of Pennsylvania, explained in a university news release.

"While these restrictions were put into place to help battle fatigue and improve patient care, the one-size-fits-all model has left many wondering whether or not other viable options could be implemented, too," said Volpp, who is also a staff physician at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. "Based on a report from the Institute of Medicine in 2009 recommending protected sleep periods when residents work duty periods of up to 30 hours, we wanted to determine whether offering these protected sleep periods, akin to a power nap, would offer a practical alternative."

Beginning in 2011, medical residency programs nationwide changed their physician-trainee schedules to comply with new work-hour restrictions laid down by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education. Those rules mandate that first-year residents cannot work more than 16 hours at a stretch. The changes were made to address concerns about over-fatigued interns and improved transitions in patient care.

But would protected "power naps" help keep these physicians-in-training alert? In the new study, Volpp's team looked at interns and senior medical students at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Participants were assigned either to a standard intern schedule -- extended-duty overnight shifts of up to 30 hours -- or to shifts with protected sleep time from 12:30 a.m.
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