Background: Overwork, fatigue, and sleep deprivation due to night duty are likely to be detrimental to the performance of medical residents and can consequently affect patient safety. Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the possibility of deterioration of cerebral function of sleep-deprived, fatigued residents using neuroimaging techniques. Design: Six medical residents were instructed to draw blood from artificial vessels installed on the arm of a normal cooperator. Blood was drawn at a similar time of the day, before and after night duty. To assess sleep conditions during night duty, the participants wore actigraphy units throughout the period of night duty. Changes in cerebral hemodynamics, during the course of drawing blood, were measured using a wearable optical topography system. Results: The visual analogue scale scores after night duty correlated negatively with sleep efficiency during the night duty (ρ = -0.812, p = 0.050). The right prefrontal cortex activity was significantly decreased in the second trial after night duty compared with the first (p = 0.028). The extent of [oxy-Hb] decrease, indicating decreased activity, in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex correlated negatively with the Epworth sleepiness score after night duty (ρ = -0.841, p = 0.036). Conclusions: Sleep deprivation and fatigue after night duty, caused a decrease in the activity of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the residents, even with a relatively easy routine. This result implies that the brain activity of medical residents exposed to stress on night duty, although not substantially sleep-deprived, was impaired after the night duty, even though they apparently performed a simple medical technique appropriately. Reconsideration of the shift assignments of medical residents is strongly advised.
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