Having that cup of coffee before entering bright light to drive to work can improve your driving performance and alertness of chronically sleep deprived young drivers. This was revealed in a road safety study performed by Queensland University of Technology. The findings were presented by Dr. Shamsi Shekari from QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety at the 2016 International Conference on Traffic and Transport Psychology held in Australia.
This was co-hosted by CARRS-Q and Griffith University that brought international experts together from across the globe to share the latest in road safety research, aiming at reducing road trauma.
A person’s circadian rhythm in shift workers and pilots has used light therapy, and offers the potential to reduce sleepiness. There was found to be a significant effect on driving performance when caffeine was used alone or combined with light. Those drivers given caffeine or light and caffeine together, had decreased side-to-side movement of the steering wheel and the vehicle, which indicated better control and higher alertness by the driver. Also those drivers feeling some signs of sleepiness after sleep loss, felt less sleepy after receiving either light or caffeine, and even felt alert after having the combination of both.
The two-week study included monitoring sleep-wake patterns with a normal eight hours of time in bed in the first week, being reduced by seven hours in the second week to produce chronic sleep deprivation in the participants in the study. The participants took test sessions the last three days which involved recording their brain and heart activity, reaction times, assessment of their sleepiness and two 50km-long simulated drives each day. In order to compare the effectiveness of the countermeasures, all of the participants were provided with inactive chewing gum and light in the first drive and randomized activity chewing gum and light in the second drive. The driver sleepiness accounted for 20% of all crashes in developed countries and young drivers were at an increased risk of chronic sleep deprivation.
Their brain development and social factors such as friends, work patterns and increased use of drugs and alcohol all had an impact on their sleep. More research is still needed even though Dr. Shekari’s study revealed promising results of the use of light and caffeine to improve driver alertness. They are now undertaking a study on the effect of sleep loss and caffeine on driving where we want to learn more specifically about the effect of daytime sleepiness and caffeine on driver performance.