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Understanding the Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Decision-Making

Dr. Sean Drummond, a Department of Defense-funded researcher has tried to unplug the impact of sleep deprivation on the brain and its effects// on decision-making and the requisite period for getting back to normal after periods of sleeplessness. This study has been especially beneficial for the military operations, where working without sleep especially during crisis is quite the norm rather than the exception.

"We can't keep as many things online at any one time when we're sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation significantly impairs attention, working memory performance, our ability to drive. It has the same effect as alcohol does," said Drummond, who works with the University of California San Diego and the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.

In the May issue of Flying Safety Magazine, Capt. Brain Drummond, a pilot in a KC-135 air refueling tanker in Iraq recounted a potentially accident-causing mistake he made in March during a refueling mission when he let too much fuel out of a tank, causing an imbalance in the aircraft. He believes the mistake resulted from too many missions with too little sleep. After flying 12 six- to seven-hour missions and fulfilling all the briefing, debriefing and aircraft pre- and post-flight requirements, he recalled that he and the crew looked like "the walking dead."

"I don't think you really know the fatigue that sets into your body until you are finally able to rest," he said. "Even though I was getting enough rest at night during the 11 straight sorties, my body and senses became very numb. I truly believe, because of the demand for the missions in OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom), our crew had become so tired that we forgot the little things, which can add up to big things."

Because of incidents like Drummond's the DoD's Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program funds research like Drummond's. Congress created the program in 1999 to promote research in health issues the military f
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