A new study reveals that a blood test could soon help police identify suspected drowsy drivers in road traffic incidents. Researchers also believe it could also be used by employers, to assess their staff’s fitness for duty, for example in the fleet or even aviation sectors.
Figures in 2015 reported fatigue as a contributory factor in 4% of road fatalities and 2% of all road casualties. It is thought that the total is, in fact, significantly higher than this as fatigue is harder to detect than alcohol and drugs, and police cannot currently run tests for sleep deprivation.
The research study, conducted at the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey, enrolled 36 healthy adults to investigate how sleep deprivation could be detected in their blood. The participants skipped one night of sleep. During this 40-hour period of sleep deprivation, scientists took blood samples and measured the change in thousands of genes.
The study, published in scientific journal Sleep, revealed that the team were able to identify a subset of 68 genes and detect with 92% accuracy whether a sample came from a sleep-deprived or well-rested person.
Emma Laing, Ph.D., senior lecturer in bioinformatics at the University of Surrey, said "We all know that insufficient sleep poses a significant risk to our physical and mental health, particularly over a period of time. However, it is difficult to independently assess how much sleep a person has had, making it difficult for the police to know if drivers were fit to drive, or for employers to know if staff are fit for work."
Scientists are positive that they can refine and develop this test to precisely test how much, or little, sleep an individual has had.