Getting sleepy at the wheel? Dangerous 'Microsleep' may occur without a break

(Medical Xpress)—Nodding off at the wheel could be easier than you think. All participants in a QUT study showed extreme levels of sleepiness 40 minutes into a simulated driving test after waking early that day.

And a few participants continued to drive for more than 10 minutes after they fell asleep for a few seconds, a condition called 'microsleep'.

Researchers from the Centre for Accident Research and - Qld (CARRS-Q) at QUT found even a small reduction in sleep affected their ability.

Lead investigator and PhD researcher Chris Watling said 26 were asked to wake at 5am and take part in a driving simulation test in the morning or afternoon.

Participants were asked to "stop when you think you would be too sleepy to drive safely on the road" to test if people were able to accurately identify when they were too tired to drive safely.

"Most of the participants decided to stop driving and take a break after about 40 minutes and most of them were able to take a nap afterwards," Mr Watling said.

"It was only a moderate sleep restriction but they had some really high levels of sleepiness after approximately five to six hours of sleep.

"The finding suggests that drivers can experience very significant levels of sleepiness within the commonly promoted 'stop and revive' recommendation of driving two hours before a break."

Mr Watling said all participants rated their level of sleepiness as an eight on the Karolinksa sleepiness scale of one to nine.

"The risk of crashing is 15 times more likely when you get to that level of sleepiness," he said.

data from showed that three participants experienced brief sleep episodes such as microsleeps and head nodding but continued to drive for more than 10 minutes.

"Participants who had microsleeps reported they fought to stay awake to complete the driving task," Mr Watling said.

"This suggests they knew they were extremely tired but pushed on to be awake for a further 12 minutes.

"On the road this is interesting because people may know they are too sleepy to drive safely but they are pushing themselves to stay awake. That's when we can get into difficulty with driving."

Mr Watling will present the paper "Too sleepy to drive: self-perception and regulation of driving when sleepy", at the Australasian Sleep Conference in Darwin, which runs from today until Saturday.

He said people should try to get the proper amount of sleep before driving or pull over for a 15 to 20 minute when tired.

"Sometimes we can't get the proper amount of because we have children or because of work commitments but we have to be aware of the knock-on effect of that," he said.

"The most important thing is if you notice signs of sleepiness you should stop straight away. Trying to push through is not a good idea.

"Pulling off road and getting out of the car removes you and other drivers from danger immediately."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Drowsy driving crashes preventable

Nov 11, 2010

Today kicks off Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, a National Sleep Foundation public awareness campaign to educate drivers about sleep safety. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a new study showing ...

Recommended for you

Independent safety investigation needed in the NHS

2 hours ago

The NHS should follow the lead of aviation and other safety-critical industries and establish an independent safety investigation agency, according to a paper published today by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. The au ...

Sexual fantasies: Are you normal?

6 hours ago

Hoping for sex with two women is common but fantasizing about golden showers is not. That's just one of the findings from a research project that scientifically defines sexual deviation for the first time ever. It was undertaken ...

AMA 'Code of Ethics' offers guidance for physicians

11 hours ago

(HealthDay)—The American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Ethics and other articles provide guidance for physicians in relation to public health emergencies, according to a report from the AMA.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.