Sleep deprivation among healthcare professionals is not uncommon especially for those working consecutive shifts, extended working hours, rotating shifts and night shifts. Several studies about the effects of sleep deprivation among hospital workers have shown that sleepiness correlates to decreased performance and increased risk of accidents.

In addition, according to the 2014 study that was published by the Journal of Nursing Administration (JONA), nurses who worked night shifts claimed to have similar results.
Alertness is crucial for healthcare professionals to avoid making mistakes that could pose danger for the patient, and in extreme cases, death. With limited opportunities to rest in between shifts, healthcare workers are left with the only option of using their break time wisely, to recharge so that they can be more productive.

Take a nap, or drink some coffee?

Naps are known to enhance memory retention and improve alertness and performance among sleep-deprived individuals. This could be beneficial for healthcare professionals who must process bulks of information and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

However, it is crucial to note that the duration of the naps is important as well. A 15-minute nap decreases sleepiness, improves logical reasoning, and boosts alertness and performance. However, a 30-minute nap, according to a study that was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2013, may cause sleep inertia and deterioration of performance.

Napping, therefore, is a double-edged sword; if taken correctly, it may boost performance, but if taken wrongly, it may lead to missing the duration of a shift, or worse, result in medical errors that could cost the patient’s life. Taking naps during break times to mitigate sleepiness is advisable to healthcare providers who have the confidence to follow the suggested nap duration of not more than 20 minutes.

Drinking coffee, on the other hand, may not be as effective as napping in improving alertness and mental performance, but it is also known to increase alertness as several studies have claimed. Moreover, it takes about the same time as napping to take effect, and does not cause a decline in motor dexterity caused by sleep inertia.

However, drinking coffee excessively has its drawbacks as well. Frequent consumption of caffeine induces anxiety, which undermines mental alertness and performance; this was backed up by a study investigating the effects of caffeine withdrawal. Furthermore, caffeine withdrawal is found to lower mental alertness and induce greater sleepiness.

While both may be effective in keeping sleepiness at bay, both have induced effects that may reduce the quality of care given to patients.

A plausible alternative to either method is the unlikely combination of both: caffeine naps. Several studies claim that drinking coffee before taking a 15 to 20-minute nap produces better results as compared to taking caffeinated beverages or naps alone. Caffeine naps, in particular, allow healthcare providers to have both their grogginess and sleepiness eliminated. The only drawback to this alternative is that it requires one to fall asleep before the caffeine kicks in; otherwise, the effect will be similar to that of caffeine alone.

Choosing the best option to combat sleepiness can be tricky, as each has its own merits and pitfalls. Healthcare professionals should then weigh the pros and cons of each to choose the one that best caters to their needs. They should also consider taking caffeine naps, as caffeine can boost the effectiveness of a power nap, which has been backed up by hard scientific evidence. MIMS

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Cassie J. Hilditch; Stephanie A. Centofanti; Jillian Dorrian; Siobhan Banks. (2013). A 30-minute, but not a 10-minute night-time nap is associated with sleep inertia Subtitle: The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 208 Suppl(1), NP.
Chen, I., Vorona, R., Chiu, R., & Ware, J. C. (2008). A survey of subjective sleepiness and consequences in attending physicians. PubMed, 6(1), 1–15.
Hayashi, M., Masuda, A., & Hori, T. (2003). The alerting effects of caffeine, bright light and face washing after a short daytime nap. Clinical Neurophysiology, 114(12), 2268–2278.