medical school

How much do our doctors really know about sleep?

How much of a doctor’s formal medical education is focused on sleep?

Taking a top institution, such as Harvard Medical School, which of the the below would you say is the total number of hours dedicated to sleep?

  • a) 2 hours
  • b) 20 hours
  • c) 200 hours
  • d) 2,000 hours


Before I reveal the answer, I think it’s important to highlight a few key facts about sleep:

👉 Sleep is something the fortunate ones among us do for a third of our lives.

👉 At least one in four of us will experience a sleep disorder at some point in our lives.

👉 Sleep, a vital pillar of wellness, impacts nearly every aspect of our health.

Given the above data, and considering that the curriculum spans four years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the answer might be 2,000 hours, which equates to just over 80 days.

However, the reality is quite different.

Surveys reveal that, on average, medical students at Harvard Medical School receive less than 2 hours of sleep education. This trend isn’t confined to the United States; it’s similar in Europe, including the UK, where the total amounts to just 1.5 hours.

The Impact of Insufficient Sleep Education

The very limited education doctors receive on sleep has significant implications.

Firstly, there’s the ability to diagnose sleep disorders correctly. Insufficient knowledge often leads to sleep disorders being under-diagnosed (not diagnosed at all) or misdiagnosed (incorrectly identified as another condition).

As a result, many individuals suffering from these conditions feel let down by their doctors and the broader medical community.

Moreover, the lack of proper diagnosis and understanding leads many to self-medicate, turning to Google, YouTube, friends, and other non-professional sources for help. This scenario often exacerbates the problem rather than providing relief.


A Glimmer of Hope

Thankfully, the landscape is not entirely bleak. We’re slowly seeing an increase in qualified sleep specialists, providing sufferers with an essential first touchpoint.

Consulting a sleep specialist can help patients:

  • Understand their condition better,
  • Direct them to the best next steps for their situation,
  • Explain the different treatment options available.


Additionally, some proactive doctors are taking it upon themselves to enhance their knowledge of sleep medicine.

Finally, it must be acknowledged that sleep is gradually gaining the recognition it deserves as a critical component of overall health.

We are hopeful that medical schools will soon expand their curricula to include more comprehensive sleep education, ensuring that future generations of doctors have a better understanding of this vital aspect of health.


Sleep Education in Medical School Curriculum: A Glimpse across Countries, Jodi A. Mindell [Link to view]

Medical student education in sleep and its disorders is still meagre 20 years on: A cross-sectional survey of UK undergraduate medical education,  Stephanie Romiszewski (disclaimer: it’s a study I did a few years ago) [Link to view]

Harvard medical school: survey of the four-year medical school curriculum [Link to view]

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