A team of scientists has found that rapid eye movements could provide an objective way to measure fatigue in people who work long hours.
Also called saccadic movements, these mostly voluntary eye movements help us fix our eyes on objects that attract our attention.
In the study, the scientists evaluated the performance of doctors from the Traumatology Service at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Centre in Phoenix, before and after their "call-day," which is a 24-hour shift during which the doctors don't sleep.
After these long shifts, the speed of their saccadic movements was reduced as they felt more fatigued.
Fortunately, when the physicians performed simulated laparoscopic tests after their shifts, their performance was not affected significantly by their fatigue. It's probable that fatigue is not the sole contributor to errors committed on the job. Still, measuring eye movements might be a good way to determine whether physicians, truck drivers, subway operators, ship captains and other vital workers are not getting enough sleep.