Getting behind the wheel after a night shift can be akin to drink-driving

Motorists who have worked a night shift are at increased risk of road accident 

Workers driving home after a night shift can display reactions similar to those of drink drivers.

Researchers in the United States found four in 10 night shift workers were at increased risk of an accident because their reactions slowed in a manner similar to being over the alcohol limit. This was attributed to disrupted sleep patterns and lack of sleep during the night.

In the study, published by the National Academy of Sciences, 16 night shift workers completed two two-hour driving tests on a closed driving track. Before the first test, participants had slept an average of 7.6 hours the previous night, with no night shift. Ahead of the second test, they worked a normal night shift. Researchers were able to record driving impairment within 15 minutes of the test starting.

The results showed 37.5% of the motorists were involved in a near-crash event during the test – usually from venturing into the wrong lane. The same drivers reported no such incidents during the first test.

The risk of micro-sleep episodes – sleep for less than three seconds – increased after driving for more than 30 minutes.

Co-author Michael Lee said: ‘Even veteran night-shift workers were vulnerable to the risks associated with drowsy driving, and exhibited reactions similar to behaviours observed in drivers with elevated blood-alcohol concentrations.

‘A short commute for these drivers is shown to be potentially dangerous and the longer the drive the greater the risk.’

Co-author Charles Czeisler added: ‘These findings help explain why night shift workers have so many more motor-vehicle crashes than day workers, particularly during the commute home.

‘Night-shift workers should be advised of the hazards of drowsy driving and seek alternate forms of transportation after night shift work.’

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