Sleep Team Looks at How Tiredness Affects Surgeons; PSYCHOLOGY: Research Expected to Revolutionise the Way Hospitals Arrange Staff's Working Days and Nights
Byline: ROBIN TURNER
SLEEP and dreaming experts at a Welsh university are trying to find out how tiredness affects doctors' accuracy on the operating table.
The University of Wales, Swansea, has established a worldwide reputation for its work on how and why we dream.
And the campus's psychology department is renowned for its expertise on how lack of sleep can affect shift workers and people's general alertness and mental health.
The department's Dr Mark Blagrove, known as ``Dr Dream'', has spent the past year as president of the International Association of the Study of Dreams.
Now, he is involved in studying doctors at Llanelli's Prince Philip Hospital where two years ago surgeons mistakenly removed patient Graham Reeves's one healthy kidney. The 70-year-old died five weeks later but surgeons John Roberts and Mahesh Goel were cleared of manslaughter after a pathologist said he could not be sure the error led directly to Mr Reeves's death.
Although the study by Dr Blagrove is not connected with that incident, his work is expected to revolutionise the way hospitals arrange the working days and nights of their staff, particularly junior doctors.
He said, ``We know that sleepy people are more suggestible than others and this work will test how accuracy can be affected by lack of sleep.''
There has been widespread concern about the effect of long hours on hospital doctors.
And last month the BMA warned that UK hospital managers were urging newly qualified doctors to lie about their hours of work in an effort to comply with EU rules setting a maximum of 56 hours a week.
Dr Blagrove has already carried out research showing that people who are questioned when they have not had enough sleep could end up being wrongly convicted.
He said although police were required to give suspects an eight-hour uninterrupted sleep period every 24 hours, sometimes this period was granted during the day.
It meant suspects would then be more likely to be suffering from sleep deprivation leading to possible false confessions, he said.
After giving questions to sleep deprived volunteers about fictional incidents they should not have been able to answer, many agreed with leading questions.
He said, ``It shows how lack of sleep can affect the way we think and act.''
Dr Blagrove and his colleagues at the department of psychology in Swansea are trying to work out why people dream, something which has never been established.
Some psychologists believe dreams occur to relieve stress, others that dreams are an outlet for trivia close to our mind while some say dreams are messages from the subconscious.
Dr Blagrove said, ``I firmly believe dreams are linked to the workings of our memory.
``We have looked at the relationship between people's waking lives and their dream states.
``We have found that generally happy people might have disturbing dreams or even nightmares.
``But this is because dreams tend to focus on certain aspects of our lives.
``For instance someone who spends six hours a day typing on a computer might not necessarily dream about that but he or she might dream about a specific person they met that day even if it was only for a few seconds or so.
``We tend not to remember mundane things but we do remember out of the ordinary incidents so dreams could be a way of helping our memory to sort out things that should be stored.''
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