Subjective awareness of sleepiness while driving in younger and older adults

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Understanding whether drivers can accurately assess sleepiness is essential for educational campaigns advising drivers to stop driving when feeling sleepy. However, few studies have examined this in real-world driving environments, particularly among older drivers who comprise a large proportion of all road users. To examine the accuracy of subjective sleepiness ratings in predicting subsequent driving impairment and physiological drowsiness, 16 younger (21–33 years) and 17 older (50–65 years) adults drove an instrumented vehicle for 2 h on closed loop under two conditions: well-rested and 29 h sleep deprivation. Sleepiness ratings (Karolinska Sleepiness Scale, Likelihood of Falling Asleep scale, Sleepiness Symptoms Questionnaire) were obtained every 15min, alongside lane deviations, near crash events, and ocular indices of drowsiness. All subjective sleepiness measures increased with sleep deprivation for both age groups (p < 0.013). While most subjective sleepiness ratings significantly predicted driving impairment and drowsiness in younger adults (OR: 1.7–15.6, p < 0.02), this was only apparent for KSS, likelihood of falling asleep, and “difficulty staying in the lane for the older adults” (OR: 2.76–2.86, p = 0.02). This may be due to an altered perception of sleepiness in older adults, or due to lowered objective signs of impairment in the older group. Our data suggest that (i) younger and older drivers are aware of sleepiness; (ii) the best subjective scale may differ across age groups; and (iii) future research should expand on the best subjective measures to inform of crash risk in older adults to inform tailored educational road safety campaigns on signs of sleepiness.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13933
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Sleep Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • ageing
  • driving impairment
  • drowsy driving
  • sleep loss
  • subjective sleepiness

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