Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sleep deprivation and driving

Sleep Review reports:
A recent online article from ABC News reports that Stanford University researchers have found that staying awake for 24 hours has the same effect as being legally drunk. Clearly, sleep deprivation can be pretty strong stuff. We know it leads to mood swings, confusion, impaired motor coordination and more. But can going without sleep for 24-hours make you, say, slur your speech and wear a lampshade on your head? Steven Howard, associate professor of anesthesia and an expert on sleep deprivation and fatigue teamed up with colleagues to study 24 nurses and 25 doctors who worked the 12-hour graveyard shift at Stanford Hospital. Half were given a 40-minute nap break at 3am, in the middle of their shift, and the other half worked straight through. At the end of their shifts, study participants took a variety of tests including a simulated 40-minute drive. Those who had not napped—but were instead sleep-deprived—turned out to be dangerous drivers. According to the researchers, the non-nappers crashed “over and over again.” The nappers did much better when it came to memory, dexterity, and mood as well. They outranked the non-nappers on a written memory test and a simulated insertion of an intravenous tube. Both groups even took a test designed by NASA that measured different mood states like confusion, fatigue, anger, and vigor. On the test, the nappers showed fewer performance lapses, less fatigue, and more vigor.
Both sleep deprivation and alcohol intoxication make driving more dangerous. Combining the two is especially dangerous.

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