How would you respond if you knew working the night shift made you more likely to suffer from a chronic condition known as ‘shift work sleep disorder’ and three times more likely to be at fault in a car accident? A recent study says it’s true. Researchers from the University of Missouri found people working ‘nontraditional’ hours like the swing shift or what’s called the graveyard shift are at greater risk of developing shift work sleep disorder which can impact their sleep and have major implications for their lives and the lives of others. Other chronic sleep conditions like sleep apnea and insomnia, increased the risk of crashes or near-crashes by 29 and 33 percent, respectively.
This research has major implications, including the need to identify engineering counter-measures to help prevent these crashes from happening,’ said study co-author Praveen Edara, in a statement. ‘Such measures can include the availability of highway rest areas, roadside and in-vehicle messaging to improve a driver’s attention, and how to encourage drivers who may have a late-night work shift to take other modes of transportation, including public transit or ride-share service,’ Edara added.
Researchers also found drivers with sleep disorders were likely to be more inattentive while driving. Previous studies have shown how sleep disorders can raise the risk of traffic crashes, but they were in controlled environments, Edara noted. ‘Our study goes a step further by using actual observed crash and near-crash data from approximately 2,000 events occurring in six U.S. states,’ the researcher explained. ‘We’ve known for a while now that sleep disorders increase crash risk, but here we are able to quantify that risk using real world crash data while accounting for confounding variables such as roadway and traffic characteristics.’
The findings were based on a real-world driving study that was put together by the second Strategic Highway Research Program established by the U.S. Congress. There is no data available for fatal crashes and there is no formal definition for drowsiness, which Edara noted impacted the findings. In the future, the researchers want to partner with public health officials who specialized in sleep research to understand why this is happening and what can be done about it. The research was published in the scientific journal Sleep Science. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving resulted in 697 deaths in 2019. The government agency noted that drowsy-driving crashes occurred mostly between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. or in the late afternoon, when people ‘experience dips in their circadian rhythm,’ or their internal body clock.
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