Can we bank sleep for better driving?

14 May 2019

Young drivers in Australia are falling asleep at the wheel, with one in four reporting a crash or near crash in the past year due to fatigue.

Young adults frequently lose sleep due to developmental challenges that are specific to their age as well as the challenges of juggling work, education, family, and peer pressures. International guidelines for sleep duration show that 7-9 hours of sleep are required by most 18-25 year olds each night, but evidence cited by the 2019 Federal Inquiry into Sleep Health Awareness in Australia suggests 70-85 per cent of teenagers do not get enough sleep. As a result, young adults face significantly increased risks for fatigue-related crashes when driving.

Associate Professor Simon Smith is a sleep scientist in ISSR’s Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) whose previous research suggests it is possible to increase sleep duration in young adults and mitigate the risks of fatigue on the road. An initial usability trial of a short sleep behaviour intervention led to positive changes in knowledge, behaviours and beliefs about sleep quantity and quality. Now, with funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Associate Professor Smith will trial a new intervention to improve the sleep habits of young adults that has the potential to reduce road trauma.

Associate Professor Smith’s team will test a program to improve routine opportunities for quality sleep in participating young adults, supporting them to “bank” sleep and increase their resilience to fatigue.  If successful, the program will decrease the driving risks for young adults by increasing the average duration of their sleep and offsetting some of the potential effects of late nights, lifestyle choices, and development factors. The $700k randomised controlled trial over three years will use wrist-worn accelerometers to measure the sleep and driving behaviours of over 189 young adults in Queensland to determine the impact of the sleep intervention. More than 30 per cent of road crash fatalities involve young adults and this intervention is one step a pragmatic step towards reducing fatigue-related trauma on our roads.

Project team: Associate Professor Simon Smith (UQ ISSR), Professor Karen Sullivan (QUT), Professor Paul Salmon (University of the Sunshine Coast), Dr Shamsi Shekari (UQ ISSR), Dr Kalina Rossa (UQ ISSR), Dr Alicia Allen (UQ ISSR)