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Study finds that workers may suffer from sleep loss

Hazleton workers may be interested in a new study that suggests that long-term sleep deprivation can lead to irreversible brain damage. The study is the first to find that prolonged stretches of sleep deficiency can lead to permanent damage and possibly increase the risk of a workplace accident. The study also found that a loss of sleep cannot be made up with extra sleep at a later date. Researchers say that more work needs to be done on humans but that the study provides deep insight into how some workers may suffer from irregular sleep schedules.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania conducted the study by putting mice on schedules that mirror those of shift workers and truck drivers. The researchers let the mice sleep and then woke them for varying periods of time. They found that the mice lost 25 percent of the neurons that are responsible for alertness and cognitive function.

The scientists say that when individuals do not get enough sleep, the brain compensates by increasing its production of a protein called sirtuin type 3, which protects and provides energy to nerve cells. However, the scientists believe that after several days on the irregular schedule, the mice stopped producing that protein. Nerve cells then died at a faster pace.

The study could be important for workers who are on irregular schedules. A loss of awareness or cognitive ability could lead to an increased risk for accidents. Employers are required to provide safe working environments, which can include allowing their employees enough time to sleep between shifts. Those who suffer injury due to work-related sleep deprivation may be able to pursue compensation from their employer for providing unsafe conditions.

Source: CNN, "Shift workers beware: Sleep loss may cause brain damage, new research says", Ben Brumfield, March 19, 2014

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