On-road driving impairment following sleep deprivation differs according to age

Anna W.T. Cai, Jessica E. Manousakis, Bikram Singh, Jonny Kuo, Katherine J. Jeppe, Elly Francis-Pester, Brook Shiferaw, Caroline J. Beatty, Shantha M.W. Rajaratnam, Michael G. Lenné, Mark E. Howard, Clare Anderson

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18 Citations (Scopus)


Impaired driving performance due to sleep loss is a major contributor to motor-vehicle crashes, fatalities, and serious injuries. As on-road, fully-instrumented studies of drowsy driving have largely focused on young drivers, we examined the impact of sleep loss on driving performance and physiological drowsiness in both younger and older drivers of working age. Sixteen ‘younger’ adults (M = 24.3 ± 3.1 years [21–33 years], 9 males) and seventeen ‘older’ adults (M = 57.3 ± 5.2, [50–65 years], 9 males) undertook two 2 h drives on a closed-loop track in an instrumented vehicle with a qualified instructor following (i) 8 h sleep opportunity the night prior (well-rested), and (ii) after 29-h of total sleep deprivation (TSD). Following TSD, both age groups displayed increased subjective sleepiness and lane departures (p < 0.05), with younger drivers exhibiting 7.37 × more lane departures, and 11 × greater risk of near crash events following sleep loss. While older drivers exhibited a 3.5 × more lane departures following sleep loss (p = 0.008), they did not have a significant increase in near-crash events (3/34 drives). Compared to older adults, younger adults had 3.1 × more lane departures (p = < 0.001), and more near crash events (79% versus 21%, p = 0.007). Ocular measures of drowsiness, including blink duration, number of long eye closures and PERCLOS increased following sleep loss for younger adults only (p < 0.05). These results suggest that for older working-aged adults, driving impairments observed following sleep loss may not be due to falling asleep. Future work should examine whether this is attributed to other consequences of sleep loss, such as inattention or distraction from the road.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21561
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

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