Young and Tired Behind the Wheel

Sleepy young drivers with fewer than six hours of sleep at higher risk for car accidents

(RxWiki News) The message not to drink and drive has been effectively promoted for years. The message not to drive after too little sleep has been slower to get out – but it's just as important.

A recent study found that young drivers who typically got six hours of sleep or less each night were more likely to get into a car accident.

These sleep-deprived youth were even more likely to crash in the middle of the night, between midnight and 6 am.

"Don't drive while sleepy."

The study, led by Alexandra L. C. Martiniuk, PhD, of the The George Institute for Global Health at the University of Sydney in Australia, looked at the risks for car crashes among teens based on how much sleep they got.

The researchers collected questionnaire responses from 20,822 newly licensed drivers between the ages of 17 and 24.

Then the researchers examined crash data in police and licensing records for approximately the next two years, looking for accidents involving the respondents. They ultimately analyzed 19,327 of the participants' records.

The researchers found that those who reported sleeping six hours or less each night were 21 percent more likely to get into a car accident than those who slept more than six hours a night.

The risk was even higher on the weekends. Individuals getting only six hours a sleep nightly were 55 percent more likely to have an accident on the weekends than those who got more sleep.

The riskiest time for sleep-deprived youth to be on the road was between midnight and 6 am, when their risk of a crash was 86 percent higher than it was for drivers with more than six hours of sleep.

Between 8 pm and midnight, sleep-deprived drivers' risk of an accident was 66 percent higher than the risk for drivers with more than six hours of sleep.

"Less sleep per night significantly increased the risk for crash for young drivers," the authors wrote. "Less sleep on weekend nights increased the risk for runoff-road crashes and crashes occurring in the late-night hours."

This increased accident risk for drivers with fewer than six hours of sleep remained even when the authors took into account how much driving experience the young adult had.

Previous research has found an increased risk of crashes for drivers sleeping five hours a night or less, so this research expands on those studies.

The study was published May 20 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Roads and Traffic Authority of New South Wales, NRMA Motoring and Services, NRMA-ACT Road Safety Trust, New South Wales Health and the Motor Accidents Authority of New South Wales. No disclosure beyond the NHNRC-Australia funding was reported.

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Review Date: 
May 19, 2013