A new study of teen drivers found that sleepiness at the wheel and poor sleep quality increased their risk of crashing a vehicle. The results were published today in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
The Italian study involved 339 high school students. Each of them had a driver’s license. Their average age was 18.4 years. Fifty-eight percent of participants were male.
They were surveyed about lifestyle habits, sleep habits, sleep disorder symptoms and daytime sleepiness. Driving habits and sleepiness at the wheel also were evaluated. Questions assessed the frequency and timing of car use and accidents.
Results show that teen drivers who reported having bad sleep or being sleepy while driving were twice as likely to have had a crash. Eighty of the 339 students had already crashed at least once. Fifteen percent of them considered sleepiness to have been the main cause of the crash. Fifty-six percent of students who had at least one previous crash reported driving while sleepy.
Lead author Dr. Fabio Cirignotta said the most effective way to combat drowsy driving is to pull over to a safe place and take a nap.
“Opening the window, listening to the radio, or drinking a coffee, are known to be short-lasting and, essentially, useless,” Cirignotta told the AASM.
The study also found that students suffered from chronic sleep deprivation. They reported that they needed an average of 9.2 hours of nightly sleep. But only six percent of students slept nine hours or more on weeknights. Instead they reported sleeping for an average of only 7.3 hours on weeknights. Fifty-eight percent of students tried to catch up by sleeping nine hours or more on weekends.
Sleep problems also were commonly reported by the students. Forty-five percent woke up at least once during the night with trouble falling asleep again. Forty percent had trouble waking up in the morning and 19 percent reported bad sleep.
The dual problems of chronic sleep loss and poor sleep quality had a negative effect on the students’ alertness. Sixty-four percent complained of excessive daytime sleepiness.
The study also found that male students and smokers were three times more likely to crash a vehicle. The authors suggested that some students may use tobacco to counteract sleepiness.
Last year a study suggested that school start times may be linked to drowsy driving. Crash rates for teen drivers dropped by 16.5 percent in a Kansas county that changed the high school start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. In the rest of the state teen crash rates increased 7.8 percent during the same time period.
Read more about sleep and teens and drowsy driving.
Image by Rich Evenhouse