Battling Battle Fatigue

Not all military mishaps can be blamed on combat. Fatigue, scientists say, also causes accidents.

The military is hoping a new study will help determine which soldiers are alert enough to fight and which of them would need to catch up on their sleep, reports Dr. Mallika Marshall from WBZ-TV

On the battlefield, there's no such thing as an eight-hour shift. Soldiers can go for days without a break - leaving them physically, mentally and emotionally drained.

In an effort to combat this problem, the Department of Defense is researching ways to predict who are the most exhausted soldiers and how they'll perform in action.

Doctors say the evidence of fatigue is found in the eyes, because they move more slowly when tired, and the pupils react differently.

The subtle changes aren't noticeable to the naked eye, so researchers are developing a series of tests to chart the changes in tired individuals.

The tests will also measure their ability to make decisions and react, important skills on the battlefield.

The current test subjects for this study are hospital residents, who also work long hours with little sleep. Doctors hope the testing could one day help them as well, but the main focus for the test is on the military.

It will be at least a year before the new testing is widely used. Currently, the commanders will have to closely monitor the fatigue levels of their troops and encourage them to catch up on their sleep during any down time

To help battle fatigue, certain military branches give stimulants to keep the troops alert. The Navy allows its pilots to take up to 30 milligrams a day of the amphetamine Dexedrine. The Air Force also uses Dexedrine. In fact, it allows pilots to take even more of the drug than the Navy allows. Use of such drugs is considered controversial and according to the military, it is not mandatory.

Right now the military is testing a drug called Modafinil, which is used to treat narcolepsy. It is also being tested by the French and British military. Preliminary results have found sleep-deprived that helicopter pilots who took Modafinil performed better than those who had not taken the drug.