Driv­ing home from night shift may be safer with light ther­apy

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

BRI­TISH COLUMBIA, Canada: To test the ef­fect of light ther­apy on driv­ing, re­searchers did a se­ries of three ex­per­i­ments with 19 adults. In two sce­nar­ios, par­tic­i­pants spent a night be­ing sleep­de­prived in a lab and then spent 45 min­utes in dim or bright light be­fore a driv­ing test. For a third test, peo­ple got a good nights’ sleep at home and then went to the lab for 45 min­utes of bright light ex­po­sure be­fore a driv­ing test.

Af­ter sleep de­pri­va­tion in the lab, five peo­ple ex­posed to dim light ther­apy got in car ac­ci­dents dur­ing the driv­ing sim­u­la­tions. None of the peo­ple who slept at home crashed, and nei­ther did any of the sleep-de­prived peo­ple who got bright light ther­apy be­fore get­ting be­hind the wheel, the study found.

“We ex­pe­ri­ence se­vere sleepi­ness to­ward the end of the night shift, and this may over­lap with our com­mute time,” said se­nior study au­thor Dr. Ralph Mistl­berger of Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity in Bri­tish Columbia, Canada.

“Sleep de­pri­va­tion makes this worse of course, and to­gether with the clock, this con­spires to im­pair our abil­ity to sus­tain at­ten­tion to task (e.g., driv­ing), and avoid dis­trac­tion, and re­act quickly to ex­ter­nal stim­uli like traf­fic lights, brake lights in front of you, road signs, etc,” Mistl­berger added by email. “Bright light is alert­ing,” Mistl­berger said.

Sleepi­ness is a lead­ing risk fac­tor for au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dents be­cause it can make driv­ers less vig­i­lant, slow re­ac­tion times and dull cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, re­searchers note in Sleep Medicine.

Shift work­ers with chronic sleep de­pri­va­tion also face an in­creased risk of ac­ci­dents. Strate­gies, like drink­ing coffee or soda, nap­ping be­fore a drive or blast­ing mu­sic or rolling down the win­dows in the car, may help in­crease alert­ness be­hind the wheel, but none of these strate­gies is fool­proof.

For the cur­rent study, re­searchers wanted to see if bright light might help re­duce driv­ing im­pair­ments re­lated to sleep de­pri­va­tion. They found par­tic­i­pants had lower body tem­per­a­tures af­ter spend­ing a sleep-de­prived night in the lab, as well as longer re­ac­tion times and in­creased sleepi­ness. Ex­po­sure to bright light didn’t ap­pear to im­prove re­ac­tion times or sleepi­ness. But the light was as­so­ci­ated with bet­ter driv­ing.

Be­yond its small size, other lim­i­ta­tions of the study in­clude the re­liance on lab con­di­tions for sleep de­pri­va­tion and light ex­po­sure, which may not match what shift work­ers would ex­pe­ri­ence on the job, the au­thors note.

“There is ev­i­dence that the use of bright light at the of­fice (or even at home di­rectly prior to be­gin­ning the work shift) may be ben­e­fi­cial in pre­vent­ing sleep de­pri­va­tion-re­lated mo­tor ve­hi­cle col­li­sions,” said Rus­sell Grif­fin, a re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Alabama at Birm­ing­ham who wasn’t in­volved in the study. “That said, there is not enough ev­i­dence to date to fully sug­gest the use of bright light ther­apy avoid a col­li­sion,” Grif­fin added by email.

The proven way to avoid the ef­fects of sleepi­ness on the road is to con­sis­tently get enough sleep, said Dr. Flaura Ko­plin Win­ston, a re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia and the Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal of Philadel­phia who wasn’t in­volved in the study. “Drowsy driv­ing is per­haps the most un­der-rec­og­nized cause of se­ri­ous crashes and sadly, the ev­i­dence is not there on how to counter it,” Win­ston said by email.

More re­search is needed on the po­ten­tial of bright light ther­apy to make ex­hausted driv­ers safer, said Dr. Don­ald Redelmeier, a re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Toronto who wasn’t in­volved in the study.

But there are still things driv­ers can do now to stay safer on the road. “Safety strate­gies while driv­ing can in­clude min­i­miz­ing dis­trac­tions, stop­ping at stop signs, re­spect­ing speed lim­its, yield­ing right-of-way, buck­ling a seat­belt, sig­nal­ing all turns and not driv­ing af­ter drink­ing al­co­hol,” Redelmeier said.

—AFP

BRI­TISH COLUMBIA, Canada: A citizen driv­ing at night­time, while street lights and car lights take af­fect.

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