First-year residents committed fewer medical errors when working shifts limited to 16 hours rather than the traditional shifts of 24 hours or more, according to a study in the Oct. 28 New England Journal of Medicine. The study is one of two reports showing reduced work hours lead to fewer errors and less "attentional failures," such as nodding off on duty. In the first study, residents working frequent shifts of 24 hours or more at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, made 36% more medical errors than colleagues on schedules that eliminated extended shifts and reduced the number of hours worked per week.
The second study, also at Brigham and Women's, examined how reduced work hours affected interns' sleep patterns. Attentional failures were twice as frequent for residents on the traditional schedule. Interns working shorter shifts were less sleep-deprived at work and were able to sleep longer at home, the study found.