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Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
Lack of sleep 'risks lives'
Asleep
A good night's sleep is essential for health
People who fail to get enough sleep after a long day at work could be putting their lives at risk, according to scientists.

Research carried out in Australia suggests that the effects of sleep loss can be similar or worse than the effects of drinking alcohol to excess.

The study found that sleep deprivation or disruption, such as shift work, can seriously affect the body's ability to think clearly and accurately and to move or react normally.

They suggest that staying awake for 18 hours without sleep can be the same as drinking to the legal limit.


Long hours can lead to stress that results in anxiety and depression

Dr Fiona Kew, BMA

The researchers, from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, warn that people who drive after being awake for that long are at increased risk of having an accident.

Their study suggests that people who have less than six hours sleep each night may be putting themselves at "very serious risk".

The authors said the effects could be compared to drinking alcohol.

"This study shows that commonly experienced levels of sleep deprivation depressed performance to a level equivalent to that produced by alcohol intoxication."

They added: "These results show that impairments in performance which have been judged as the legal limit for driving safely may start to occur as early as 17 hours after waking and around 18 hours on average after waking."

Accidents

Writing in the latest issue of the medical journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, they say that sleep deprivation plays a part in two out of three road accidents in the US.

"Driving home after a long work day, for example, may put you at increased risk of an accident.

"Drivers who have been awake for more than 17-18 hours are likely to be significantly slower at reacting and will be increasingly likely to miss information as the period of sleep loss increases even further."

Junior doctors have long complained that both they and patients are put at risk because they often have to work long days or days at a time without rest.

Fiona Kew, deputy chairperson of the BMA's junior doctors' committee welcomed the study.

She added: "It has long been argued that junior doctors' working arrangements are detrimental not just to their own health but to patient care.

"The BMA has recently produced a report that reviews the scientific literature on the implications for health and safety and performance is put at risk by long working hours, inadequate rest and high frequency of work outside of normal working hours.

"It finds that long hours can lead to stress that results in anxiety and depression, as well as increased smoking and consumption of alcohol and taking of unnecessary risks."

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See also:

06 Jul 99 | Health
Junior doctors speak out
01 Apr 00 | Health
Heavy work 'bad for childbirth'
14 Feb 00 | Health
80% of workers have back pain
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