'Society Unconscious of Sleep Problems'

'The Odd Truth'
TOKYO - A driver fell asleep at the helm of one of Japan's bullet trains while it was speeding at 170 mph with 800 passengers on board, the railway company said Thursday.

It is the first time on record that someone has nodded off while driving the Shinkansen, or bullet train - a high speed train that reaches maximum speeds of 180 miles per hour, West Japan Railway said. The train was apparently on auto-pilot at the time.

The train pulled into a station en route from Hiroshima and Tokyo and came to halt about 300 feet before it was supposed to. When officials from the station rushed to the driver's car, they found him asleep in his chair, JR West said.
The 33-year-old driver told West Japan Railway officials he "has no memory" of what happened for about eight minutes until he was awakened. Drivers normally take over from the automatic controls and drive the train manually in the final approach to a station.
West Japan Railway said the driver had gotten plenty of sleep and hadn't been drinking alcohol before the incident. The company is still investigating why he fell asleep. There were no injuries to anyone on board.

© 2003 CBS NEWS

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'Report: Lack of Sleep May Have Same Effect on Doctors as Drinking Three or Four Cocktails

A recent study conducted by J.Todd Arnedt of the University of Michigan and fellow researchers finds that an 80-hour work week can be just as dangerous as three or four drinks to a doctor who must drive or perform a mentally taxing activity after his or her shift. The researchers tested 34 doctors by measuring their performance on an attention test and a driving simulator on four different occassions. The doctors were either measured after a rotation of day shifts with few evening shifts or after a rotation of intense evening shifts adding up to an 80-hour work week. During the final week of the rotation, the volunteers were either given alcoholic beverages or non-alcoholic placebos.

The results showed that doctors who had worked a heavy schedule of night shifts experienced 7 percent slower reaction times than those doctors who primarily held day shifts. When it came to simulated driving, doctors who worked many night shifts performed similarly to those doctors with an easier schedule whose blood alcohol level was just below the legal limit. The authors concluded that "residents must be aware of post-call performance impairment and the potential risk to personal and patient safety. There should be sleep loss, fatigue and countermeasure education in residency programs. Additional studies should examine the impact of these operational and educational interventions on resident driving safety and on patient care and safety.".....

© National Sleep Foundation. Published 14th September 2005.

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