Nap a day makes doctors OK, Stanford study finds

itals and other employers will consider policy changes that include nap breaks to help improve safety and performance levels.

"Being up for 24 hours has the same effects as being legally drunk," said Howard. "Caffeine and nicotine mask the effects of sleepiness, but naps actually replace lost sleep. It's totally different mechanistically."

To determine just how much a nap would help alleviate sleep deprivation, researchers recruited 49 subjects - 24 nurses and 25 doctors - who worked through the night from 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. in the emergency room at Stanford Hospital. They divided the subjects into two groups. One group worked straight through the night as usual, while the other subjects were allotted a 40-minute nap break at 3 a.m. in the middle of their shift.

"They fell asleep really fast," said Smith-Coggins. "Half fell asleep in less than 10 minutes. They were tired!"

At the end of their shift at 7:30 a.m., both groups underwent a series of tests including a 40-minute simulated car drive, a 10-minute written memory recall test, a computer-based I.V. insertion simulation and a questionnaire developed by NASA that measured different mood states including anger, confusion, depression, fatigue, tension and vigor.

The nap group scored fewer performance lapses, reported more vigor, less fatigue and less sleepiness. The doctors and nurses who napped also tended to complete more quickly the simulated intravenous insertion, and they were safer drivers in the tests.

By contrast, many of those without naps would "crash over and over again" in the driving simulations, Smith-Coggins said. Their cars would often leave the road or collide with oncoming vehicles. "I felt so badly after seeing how tired they were."

Another test measured facial alertness to assess drowsy driving. Researchers scored videotapes of the subjects' faces while perform

Contact: Tracie White
Stanford University Medical Center

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