A new vital signs test to identify sleep-deprived drivers may help avoid road accidents

A new vital signs test to identify sleep-deprived drivers may help avoid road accidents

Experts at Monash University in Australia and the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom indicated that the level of sleep deprivation increases the risk of serious injury or death in critical situations.

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The study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that the biomarker used in the test accurately predicted when study volunteers were awake for more than 24 hours under controlled laboratory conditions. Future work could examine whether these biomarkers are evident in saliva or breath and lead to roadside testing. The test detected whether individuals had been awake for 24 hours with a 99.2% chance of being right compared to well-rested samples, the researchers said.

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When a single sample was considered without the stable comparator (similar to a diagnostic blood test), it dropped to 89.1 percent, which is still very high, they said. Since about 20% of road accidents worldwide are caused by sleep deprivation, the researchers hope that this discovery will help in future tests to quickly and simply identify sleep-deprived drivers.

The vital sign could also be developed for other situations where sleep deprivation could lead to disastrous consequences, such as in safety-critical workplaces. “This is a really exciting discovery for sleep scientists, and could be transformative in the future health and safety management of insufficient sleep,” said Claire Anderson, the study’s lead researcher, who led the research while at Monash University.

“Although more work is needed, this is a promising first step,” said Anderson, a professor at the University of Birmingham. The researchers noted that there is strong evidence that less than five hours of sleep is linked to unsafe driving.

However, they said driving after being sober for 24 hours is at least comparable to more than twice the Australian legal limit for alcohol use. The test may also be ideal for future forensic use but further validation is required.

Study first author Katie Gebbie, from Monash University, said it was difficult to say when a test could be developed for use after an accident. “The next steps would be to test it in a less controlled environment and perhaps under forensic conditions, especially if it is to be used as evidence of accidents involving sleeping drivers,” Gebby said.

“Because it is blood, testing is more limited in a roadside context, but future work could examine whether our metabolites, and thus the biomarker, are evident in saliva or breath,” the researcher said. This biomarker of sleep deprivation is based on 24 or more hours of waking but can be detected up to 18 hours of waking. A biomarker can be developed for limited sleep during the previous night, but more research is needed to integrate time since sleep with amount of sleep into predictions.

“More work will be needed if laws are changed and sleep deprivation testing is introduced on the road or in workplaces,” Gebby said. “This will include further validation of vital signs, as well as establishing safe levels of sleep to prevent and recover from illness.” . He added: “From disability, not to mention the extensive legal procedures.”

    (Tags for translation) Monash University 

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