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Shift work linked with drowsy driving

Although shift work has been linked with weak immune systems, high blood pressure, and conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, it is also leading to more car accidents in Minnesota and across the United States. The reason is that disruptions in the sleep-wake cycle contribute to greater drowsiness during the day.

To investigate the trend, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital conducted a study using 16 night shift workers. These workers were asked to participate in two driving sessions, the first after sleeping overnight and the second after getting off work. It was in the second session that drivers exhibited more signs of drowsiness, which an EEG measured during micro-sleep episodes.

Nearly 40 percent drivers were involved in near-crash events during the second session. Over a third had their session terminated early after having to perform an emergency stop. Among both sessions, half ended with drivers losing control of their vehicles.

Researchers stated that having more experience in shift work did not alter the results. Participants' driving reactions were often similar to those of drivers with high blood alcohol content. On average, researchers took only 15 minutes to detect signs of sleep-related impairment in the drivers. The study concluded by encouraging better education about the risks of drowsy driving, especially when returning from a night shift.

Drivers are responsible if their drowsiness becomes the cause of a car accident. Victims may wish to have a lawyer help with the injury claim as he or she may be able to determine how much a victim is eligible for and whether or not the victim contributed to the accident. Contributory negligence won't invalidate a claim, but it could lower the potential settlement. After investigators find evidence of negligence, the lawyer may be able to proceed with negotiations and, if necessary, litigation.

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