Do you really know when you are sleep? too sleepy to drive or perform an activity? This question is front and center as people are getting fewer hours of sleep each night than ever before. Studies show that consistently getting too little sleep poses long term health risks, but do a few nights of little sleep have any impact?
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal details the steps being taken by sleep researchers around the world to develop a test for sleepiness. They are trying to find ways to identify sleepiness in people before they are so impaired that accidents occur. We know that people who are sleepy have decreased attention, slower reaction times and problems learning and processing information. Many people often don’t know how sleepy they are until it is too late. This is especially significant for shift workers who generally get less sleep than day workers.
Some interesting information noted in the article are the results of a 1997 study published in the journal Nature which showed that being awake for 24 hours resulted in the equivalent level of cognitive impairment as having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.1%. In the U.S., it is illegal for adults to drive with a concentration of .08% or above.
The WSJ reports that researchers are looking for a biomarker, a characteristic or substance, in the body that will indicate if someone is sleepy and if they are, just how sleepy. While actual biological tests are years away, great strides are being made.
Other ways of identifying sleepiness are also being pursued. A professor of applied physics in Finland, Edward Haeggstrom, has noted that balance is impacted by sleepiness; the longer you have been awake, the more you sway. Additional research notes the link between sleepiness and eye blinks; the sleepier you are, the slower your eyelids close.
While we know the importance and value of sleep, this research provides the hope that this new information and knowledge can be used in our daily lives as part of our health care regimen, helping us to lead healthier and safer lives.