Insufficient Sleep: A Likely Cause of Poor Performance Among Pharmacists, Pharmacy Students


Insufficient sleep is prevalent among pharmacy students, and college students more generally, with studies showing that many pharmacy students in the didactic portion of the academic curriculum suffer from poor quality sleep.

Sleep plays a significant role in the normal functioning of the human body. It is vital in health, cognition, and emotion and may affect learning and memory.1 Generally, sleep is considered to provide optimal benefits only in sufficient amounts, with either a lack or excess of sleep potentially posing risks.2,3

Insufficient sleep is defined as sleeping less than the 7 to 8 hours recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society for Optimal Health. Insufficient sleep is an issue prevalent in more than 30% of the American population, with some instances classified as a disorder and referred to as insufficient sleep syndrome.4

Insufficient sleep is prevalent among pharmacy students, and college students more generally, with studies showing that many pharmacy students in the didactic portion of the academic curriculum suffer from poor quality sleep.5 This is further exacerbated at specific periods during the semester as a majority obtain fewer than the recommended 7 hours of sleep, especially close to an examination.6

Not only is the right amount of sleep important, but the sleep quality is also essential. In a situation in which one lacks both, the outcome is invariably associated with adverse health effects, such as impairment in working memory, executive function, processing speed, and cognitive throughput.7 This impairment of cognitive function often has detrimental effects on the 3 brain processes associated with learning: acquisition, consolidation, and recall, which can ultimately lead to decreased academic performance.5

A common problem that arises for many pharmacy students is that they are also unaware that they have sleep difficulties that are affecting their academic performance.5 The consequences of this lack of awareness may exacerbate the issue over time, leading to a decline in alertness and an increase in stress levels, which can all take a toll on performance.8

Even outside school, pharmacists are often faced with increased workloads and long working hours, which may directly affect their sleep duration and sleep quality. Sleep duration is often determined by work, and not only the actual work time, but also the time spent in commuting to and from work.7

The effects of sleep deprivation on key mental processes such as cognitive function and vigilant attention suggest the extent of harm that insufficient sleep can have on the performance of pharmacists.8 Although there is a lack of literature showing a direct link between sleep duration and professional performances of pharmacists, a number of studies have shown that increased workload and fatigue rank as causes of medication errors, which has the potential to reflect negatively professionally on the pharmacist.9

Insufficient sleep not only affects alertness but is also associated with impaired immune function, increased pain, impaired performance, increased errors, and greater risk of accidents, which all have the potential to negatively affect the lives and careers of both pharmacy students and professional pharmacists alike.2 In light of this, it is necessary that just as pharmacists provide advice and medical counselling to their patients on proper sleeping habits, they should endeavour to apply such useful information for themselves as well.


  • Maquet P. The role of sleep in learning and memory. Science. 2001;294(5544):1048-1052. doi: 10.1126/science.1062856.
  • Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al. Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: a joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep. 2015;38(6):843-844. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4716.
  • Linz D, Kadhim K, Kalman JM, McEvoy RD, Sanders P. Sleep and cardiovascular risk: how much is too much of a good thing? European Heart Journal. 2019;40(20):1630-1632. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehy772.
  • Lombardero A, Hansen CD, Richie AE, Campbell DG, Joyce AW. A Narrative Review of the Literature on Insufficient Sleep, Insomnia, and Health Correlates in American Indian/Alaska Native Populations. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. 2019;4306463. doi: 10.1155/2019/4306463.
  • Cates ME, Clark A, Woolley TW, Saunders A. Sleep quality among pharmacy students. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2015;79(1):09. doi: 10.5688/ajpe79109.
  • Zeek ML, Savoie MJ, Song M, et al. Sleep Duration and Academic Performance Among Student Pharmacists. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2015;79(5):63. doi: 10.5688/ajpe79563.
  • Grandner MA. Sleep, Health, and Society. Sleep Medicine Clinics. 2017;12(1):1‐22. doi: 10.1016/j.jsmc.2016.10.012.
  • Worley SL. The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep: The Detrimental Effects of Inadequate Sleep on Health and Public Safety Drive an Explosion of Sleep Research. Pharmacy and Therapeutics. 2018;43(12):758‐763.
  • Balayssac D, Pereira B, Virot J, et al. Work-related stress, associated comorbidities and stress causes in French community pharmacies: a nationwide cross-sectional study. PeerJ. 2017;5:e3973. doi: 10.7717/peerj.3973.

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