Unique test lets you know if you can stay awake while driving

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by Brandy Aguilar, Special Projects

azfamily.com

Posted on July 19, 2011 at 9:55 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 22 at 11:20 AM

PHOENIX - A unique type of test is letting people know if they have what it takes to stay awake when it matters most.

It’s very challenging,” Don Good said. “I had to keep stimulating myself mentally to realize that it would be kind of easy to blink off.”

Good, who is an express air carrier pilot, wanted to take what's called the Maintenance of Wakefulness test at Banner Baywood Medical Center.  It’s a test that has been used to determine if you're awake enough to drive or pilot a plane.

“The patient is supposed to stay still without any stimulation, without any movement,” Dr. Piotr Stola said. “The patient is basically having eyes open and trying to remain awake for 40 minutes.”

The sleep test consists of four, 40 minute sessions. Stola said this type of test can help people suffering from sleep apnea.

“So whatever the treatment a sleep apnea patient chooses then we see if the patient can remain awake and that may be required for certain professions like truck driving, pilots and traffic controllers,” Stola said. “If the results are eight minutes or less that indicates significant inability to remain awake.”

While this test can show whether or not people with medical conditions can stay alert on the job, drowsy drivers and pilot fatigue has been a growing problem over the years.

“Public safety is very important and because of the lifestyles we have and the sleep deprivation that we chronically endure, it is important that we stay awake during certain activities,” Stola said.

A new study by the British pilots' union found one in five pilots admitted to falling asleep while on duty in the cockpit. When it comes to drivers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates drowsy driving accounts for more than 100-thousand accidents each year.

“People have to be aware that they may fall asleep without warning,” Stola said.

Even though Good doesn't have a medical condition, that fear of falling asleep without warning, is exactly why he didn't hesitate to give the test a try.

“Everybody seems to have that it won't happen to me type of philosophy,” Good said. "Unfortunately you have to sit there and kind of think beyond and go if this does happen to me what are the consequences.”

For more information, go to Banner Baywood Medical Center - Maintenance of Wakefulness Test.

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