Sleep-Deprived Drivers Might as Well be Drunk
Insufficient sleep reduces reaction time and greatly ups the odds of a crash
Lack of sleep is bad not just for your physical and mental health but for the safety of others, new research confirms. Driving after a night of sleep deprivation can be as dangerous as driving while drunk. Even one hour of lost sleep reduces the brain’s ability to react optimally and drive safely.
The new research paper, a review of 61 separate laboratory and field studies, found that getting less than four or five hours sleep in a 24-hour period can lead to a doubling of the risk of a vehicle crash. That’s about the same added risk as driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.05%, the legal threshold for drunk driving in Australia (it’s 0.08% in the United States, Canada and parts of the U.K.).
Even one lost hour of sleep diminishes reactions.
“A driver’s risk of a crash significantly increases with each hour of sleep lost the night before,” the researchers concluded. “Some studies even suggested that when a driver had between zero and four hours of sleep the previous night, they may be up to 15 times more likely to have a crash.”
What goes wrong
During high-quality, deep sleep, our thoughts and emotions are tidied up and the brain is physically, literally cleaned out of misfolded proteins and toxins that build up each day. If we don’t get enough good sleep, the brain is left in a fog.
Brain scans have revealed that a sleep-deprived brain works more slowly and struggles to encode information and translate what we see into thoughts, scientists reported several years ago in the journal Nature Medicine. “We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” said UCLA researcher Itzhak Fried, MD. “Severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much.”
That could cause someone to react more slowly to an oncoming car or a pedestrian entering the street.
“It takes longer for his brain to register what he’s perceiving,” said study team member Yuval Nir of Tel Aviv University.