SLEEP RESEARCHERS AT Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center think that they've found a way to save lives outside the hospital: a fat wristwatch to help truckers and railroad engineers manage fatigue, a leading cause of accidents. The Federal Aviation Administration may require commercial pilots to wear the gadget full-time.

The so-called actigraph, or Sleep Watch, was developed by Precision Control Design Inc. (PCD) in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Inside, a motion detector and a microprocessor continuously monitor wrist movements--which are distinctly different when a person is asleep. This way, the system can tabulate sleep patterns and tell wearers whether they are alert enough to fly a plane or drive a truck.

Only eight Sleep Watches currently exist. They cost $1,800, so they are used primarily by sleep researchers. "But put this on a chip, mass-produce it, and everyone can afford it," says Dr. Gregory Belenky, head of sleep research at Walter Reed. PCD plans to do just that, perhaps by yearend.

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