Sleep deprivation

The effects of sleep deprivation can be "worse than alcohol", according to Dr Joe Harbison, a specialist in sleeping disorders.

Speaking at a lecture in the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland last week, Dr Harbison warned that, "very few people get enough sleep anymore and sleeping disorders should be taken seriously".

He stated that people sleep less now than ever before leading to a condition known as "sleep debt". When a person is in "sleep debt", they suffer impaired sustained concentration and impaired decision making. According to Dr Harbison, when driving, the effects of a lack of sleep can be "worse than alcohol".

The doctor's comments come in the wake of a new study, which indicates that many people who get sleepy while driving may have an undiagnosed sleeping disorder.

Researchers in Spain found that one in every 30 drivers regularly fell asleep while driving on motorways. This corresponds to a 13-fold increase in the risk of a car accident.

The study, which has just been published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that people who were suspected of having a sleeping disorder ran a high risk of having a car accident while waiting to see a specialist.

Dr Harbison, who graduated from UCD but currently works in the UK, said that there are around 5,000 deaths on American roads every year due to people falling asleep at the wheel of their car.

He warned that despite the fact that there are currently around 80 described sleeping disorders, "the problem is not taken seriously, but it should be".