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  • Writer's pictureSophie Bostock, PhD

Are sleep-deprived Mums (and Dads) at risk behind the wheel?

Could being the parent of a sleepless infant put you at similar risk behind the wheel as being over the limit for drunk driving?

Are mothers of infants with insomnia at higher risk of car accidents?

We know that sleep loss can be linked to risk taking and slower reaction times, but this study is the first to demonstrate that mothers of infants with insomnia drove with less control than mothers of infants who slept normally.

Researchers in Australia recruited 54 women aged 21-40 in 3 groups:

  • women with no children

  • women with infants aged 6-23 months with no sleep problems

  • women with infants aged 6-23 months who experienced insomnia.. defined as difficulty falling asleep, waking up for >30min, or waking >2 times per night, causing a negative impact on daytime function.

In a 25 minute driving simulation task, conducted between 9 and 11:30am, the mums of infants with insomnia...

  • swerved more times over the lane markers

  • had a higher maximal speed -- the average max speed was 10km/hr over the speed limit

  • perceived their driving to be worse than the other 2 groups

This study suggests that if you're worried that you might not be well rested enough to drive, you are right to be cautious. You, your passenger(s) and other road users could be at risk.

Look for alternative transport, or share lifts if you can. If you have to drive, try and nap first, or have a coffee 20minutes before you leave. Keep the journey as short as possible. The driving simulation in this study was done in the morning and was only 25 minutes long.. if you're driving long distances at night, the risks could be even greater.

This study was only done in mothers, but there is no reason to believe that fathers who are primary care givers of sleepless infants would respond differently.

Ref: Kahn et al (2023) Sleepless on the road: are mothers if infants with insomnia at risk for impaired driving? Journal of Sleep Research, 30 October

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