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Is napping at work a safety measure?

Is napping at work a safety measure?

If your work performance is impaired by lack of sleep, taking a nap on the job could be the answer.

Researchers at the Sleep/Wake Research Centre are testing this idea in a new study.

Dr Leigh Signal, Associate Director of the Centre, says not getting enough sleep is a common problem in our 24-hour society, due to increasing work and social demands.

“Feeling sleepy is only one of the symptoms. Slower reaction times, difficulty paying attention, memory problems, poorer physical coordination and a reduced ability to analyse and solve problems are observed following only one night of restricted sleep,” she says.

Driver fatigue is a factor in as many as one in six truck crashes. The finding comes from a 2004 study conducted by the Sleep/Wake Research Centre, and funded by the Road Safety Trust. Fatigue was also a factor in industrial accidents such as Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Although it is possible to reduce the effects of sleepiness temporarily with stimulating aids such as caffeine, noise or exercise, the only way to truly overcome sleepiness is to sleep. Napping is potentially an effective strategy to reduce the performance changes and the increased risk of errors and accidents associated with sleepiness.

So how effective is taking a nap?

To address this question, Centre staff are using their purpose-built sleep laboratory to assess the effects of napping in the early hours of the morning on performance and alertness.

Twelve participants are spending four weekends each at the Centre, during which they are required to stay awake for an extended period. On three of the four occasions, a nap opportunity of either 20, 40 or 60 minutes is provided during the night. Performance and alertness are measured at frequent intervals to determine to what extent performance and alertness improve following naps.

Dr Signal says the results of the study will enable better prediction of performance and alertness after naps.

“The results will provide better guidelines for the effective use of naps as a way of combating sleepiness in the workplace,” she says. “We hope that this will lead to safer work place practices.”

Caption: A sleep researcher attaches sensors to measure brain activity, eye movement and muscle tone, in order to determine her neuro-physiological alertness and sleep state.


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