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Reported September 7, 2005

Sleep Deprivation Similar to Alcohol Effects

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- The effects of sleep deprivation on attention performance tasks are comparable to the effects of drinking several alcoholic beverages, according to a new study from Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I. and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Researchers studied the sleep deprivation effects on fatigued medical residents, as the negative impacts of sleep deprivation on this population are well documented. They tested 34 medical residents under four conditions -- light call, light call with alcohol, heavy call and heavy call with placebo.

Light and heavy calls refer to the number of hours residents worked in a given week and how much overnight duty they had. Light call residents worked about 44 hours a week and slept about 6.5 hours the night before the tests. Heavy call residents worked between 80 and 90 hours a week and had about 3.5 hours sleep the night before the testing session.

Prior to one of the testing sessions, residents were given an amount of vodka to achieve a 0.05 blood alcohol concentration -- an amount just below the legal driving limit. The groups then performed computer tests to gauge their attention and judgment and spent 30 minutes on a driving simulator. Researchers found heavy and light call with alcohol showed similar numbers of attention lapses and slowed reaction times on computerized tests. On the driving simulator, both groups also showed the same level of impairment in their ability to maintain lane position and avoid going off the road. After heavy call, residents were actually 30-percent more likely to fail to maintain a steady speed on the simulator.

Researchers say: "The take-home message here is that the repercussions of fatigue on residents are considerable. This is a national problem, and we shouldn't consider it solved by an 80-hour cap on hours." They add, "We could improve on-call sleeping quarters, provide rides to and from work, reinforce the importance of catching up on sleep after heavy call. Because there is a risk to residents and to other drivers -- and that risk needs to be managed."

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to /newsalert/

SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2005;294:1025-1033

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