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Drowsiness a health hazard for night shift workers

Shift work increases the risk for many conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, but there is another concern that could be considered more pressing. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital have determined that night shift workers are prone to drowsy driving, especially during their commute home. According to their report, over 9.5 million people in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. work night shifts or rotational shifts, so the problem is a widespread one.

In the study that researchers conducted, 16 night shift workers were chosen to participate in two driving sessions on a closed driving track. The first occurred after they had slept an average of 7.6 hours, and the second after they got off work. Driver performance was measured by the number of mistakes they made while an EEG measured drowsiness during micro-sleep episodes.

The result was that half of all sessions ended with drivers losing control of their vehicle. Over a third of the drivers had their second session terminated early when they made emergency stops, and another six were involved in near-crash events.

Experience in night shift work varied between the participants but did not affect the trend in the results. Even short commutes can be dangerous as researchers found signs of drowsiness in the drivers within the first 15 minutes of every session.

The study recommends that drivers be better educated about the risks of drowsy driving. However, the decision ultimately lies with the driver. If a victim in a car accident knows the other party was negligent, it may be time to file an injury claim. A lawyer should be retained to help build up the case, and he or she will likely hire experts to investigate the driver's medical or crash history and recreate the accident scene. The lawyer can then negotiate on the victim's behalf for a settlement.

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