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New Blood Test Detects Sleep Deprivation with 99% Accuracy



Sleep deprivation is a common yet often overlooked issue that can have serious consequences, particularly in safety-critical situations. A groundbreaking study published in Science Advances has introduced a new blood test that can accurately detect whether an individual has gone without sleep for 24 hours.


Man yawning


This research aimed to develop a test that could accurately determine how long someone has been awake (time since they last slept) and identify if they haven't slept for more than 24 hours (sleep deprivation). The study focused on healthy young adults in a controlled setting.


Participants stayed awake for 40 hours straight in a controlled environment with minimal outside disruptions (constant routine). Blood samples were collected at various points during those 40 hours. A special technique called "untargeted liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry" (LC-MS) was used to analyze the blood samples and identify a wide range of molecules (metabolites) present.


Using advanced computer analysis (machine learning), researchers identified a specific group of metabolites that changed in response to sleep deprivation. This group of metabolites could then be used to predict how long someone had been awake and if they were sleep-deprived.


The accuracy of the test is particularly impressive, reaching 99.2% when compared to a well-rested baseline. Analyzing the individual components of the biomarker sheds light on the biological pathways impacted by sleep loss. This knowledge can not only validate the test's effectiveness but also pave the way for future research on the health consequences of sleep deprivation and potential interventions.



Implications


The implications of this research extend beyond road safety. Fatigue-related human errors have been implicated in major disasters such as the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown and the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Objective tests like this biomarker could be crucial in identifying individuals at risk of making critical mistakes due to fatigue.



A collage of road traffic safety signs, an airplane taking off, and a scrub top on a hanger with a stethoscope hanging around it.
Getty Images | Atlas Studio


Here are some possible applications across various industries:


  • Safety-critical workplaces: Jobs like air traffic control, nuclear power plant operation, or surgery require peak alertness. A quick test could identify employees who are too sleep-deprived to perform their duties safely, preventing potentially catastrophic accidents.

  • Shift workers and long-haul professions: Many professions involve irregular sleep schedules. This test could help employers create better work schedules that optimize employee alertness and performance. It could also be used by individuals to monitor their own sleep patterns and adjust accordingly.

  • Medical field: Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals often work long hours under pressure. A sleep deprivation test could be used to identify healthcare workers who may be at risk of making errors due to fatigue.

  • Military and first responders: Soldiers, firefighters, and police officers often face physically and mentally demanding situations with limited sleep. This test could help ensure their safety and effectiveness in critical situations.

  • Aviation industry: Pilot fatigue is a serious concern. A sleep deprivation test could be used as part of pre-flight protocols to ensure pilots are well-rested for safe operation.

  • Sports performance: Athletes rely on peak physical and mental performance. This test could help them optimize their sleep schedules for maximum recovery and competition readiness.


While the test shows promise, further work is needed to develop it for practical use, including validation of biomarkers and establishing safe levels of sleep. However, the potential for such a test to revolutionize the management of health and safety related to sleep deprivation is significant.


Despite these limitations, the potential of this blood test that detects sleep deprivation is undeniable. It has the potential to revolutionize how we manage sleep health and safety in critical situations. The future of sleep deprivation detection might just be a simple blood draw away.


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Dr. David Eleff, Otolaryngologist/Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist at ENT Family in Hollywood, Florida.

This article has been medically reviewed by  otolaryngologist, David Eleff, M.D.

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