According to the research, sleep disturbance throughout shift work triples the chance of automobile accidents

People with a shift-work sleep disorder are at the highest risk of a car accident, although sleep apnea and insomnia also increase a person’s risk.

A new report helps quantify how much insomnia can affect a person’s ability to drive.

The study, published in the journal Safety Science, found that drivers who suffer from a shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) are almost three times more likely to be involved in a car accident compared to drivers without a sleep disorder.

As the name suggests, SWSD is most common among people who have non-traditional working hours, such as: B. the shift from 11pm to 7am. Working through the night and sleeping during the day for extended periods of time can result in a disorder where a person has difficulty falling asleep when expected or needed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2017 and 2018, 16% of American workers were working off schedule.

Existing studies have already shown that sleep disorders can lead to unsafe driving; Most of these studies weren’t on real data, however, said co-author Praveen Edara, PhD, of the University of Missouri.

“In the past, researchers have mainly studied sleep disorders in a controlled environment with test tracks and driving simulators,” Edara said in a statement. “Our study goes one step further by using actual observed crash and near-crash data from approximately 2,000 events in six US states.”

The new study is on the federal government’s second strategic road research program. Investigators collected data from 1,892 traffic incidents in 6 states using binary logistic regression models with random effect to estimate the accident risk associated with SWSD, as well as sleep apnea and insomnia. They then took into account confounding variables such as roadway and traffic characteristics in order to determine the contribution of sleep disorders to the risk of .

SWSD led to the highest risk of crash (odds ratio [OR] = 2.96); The risk was particularly for older drivers (over 65 years of age). Drivers with sleep apnea were 29% more likely to have an accident or near-crash, and drivers with insomnia were 33% more likely to have an accident or near-crash. The analysis also found that drivers with a sleep disorder were 29% more likely to be inattentive while driving.

Edara said he hoped that by quantifying and publishing the risks associated with insomnia and driving, he and his colleagues can draw the necessary research attention to the problem.

“We want to work with public health professionals and medical professionals who have expertise in sleep research to better understand why this is happening,” he said. “This also enables us to investigate which countermeasures we can develop in order to test and improve the overall safety of these drivers and the other drivers in their vicinity.”

Edara said security improvements can come from several directions. On the one hand, improvements in the treatment of sleep disorders can eliminate the cause of the increased risk, but additional driving technologies such as drowsiness warnings and even self-driving cars could reduce the risk. In addition, it has become easier for people to take advantage of ride-sharing services that can help people with insomnia avoid being behind the wheel altogether.


Bharadwaj N, Edara P, Sun C. Sleep disorders and the risk of traffic : A naturalistic driving study analysis. Security science. 2021; 140: 105295. doi: 10.1016 / j.ssci.2021.105295

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