Lack of sleep can spell danger3rd November 2009
Some people are more susceptible to unintended danger than others if they have not had enough sleep, according to a recent US study.
The study highlights the way people's brains react differently to sleep deprivation.
When W. Todd Maddox and David Schnyer of the Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Texas in Austin examined brain scans of the subjects, they found that some of the people who had been deprived of sleep shifted from a more automatic process of interacting with things around them into a less automatic one that involved conscious evaluation.
They said that people who lose their ability to make automatic decisions about things when they are tired are much more likely to make potentially deadly errors when they are driving, or if their profession involves a high-pressure environment.
People such as doctors, firefighters, soldiers, and air-traffic controllers should all be very careful that they get a proper amount of sleep, because their professions involve what the researchers called information integration.
The researchers called the state some people enter when they have been deprived of sleep rule-based, and noted that it involved a conscious evaluation of things that need quick reaction times.
They gathered their results by testing sleep-deprived subjects at West Point in the US.
West Point is an academy that trains college-age students who plan to be top US military officials.
In the experiment, the group of students who were not sleep-deprived exhibited a 4.3% increase in information-integration accuracy after a good night of sleep.
The sleep-deprived group's performance declined by 2.4% after they had been similarly deprived.
Fast and accurate categorisation is the key to survival in dangerous situations, as well as in some everyday situations for parents.
However, not all of the study participants experienced a drop into a lower state of mental functioning.
The researchers said that the kind of categorisation problems they looked at involved both conscious, explicit processing in frontal brain systems adversely affected by sleep deprivation, and ones that involved peoples' reflexes.
The authors supposed that people who find themselves working too many things out when they are tired to react quickly in dangerous situations should try to occupy their minds rather than letting them interfere with what they are doing.
Another recent US study funded by the government has highlighted the fact that the majority of Americans suffer from a chronic lack of sleep.
The researchers said that almost one-third of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep on a regular basis.
University-educated Americans were among the most sleepless, as well as people living in the southeast of the country and people belonging to ethnic minorities.
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