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Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital have found that working the night shift leads to an increased risk of drowsy driving, particularly during the commute home. Drowsy driving is considered a public health hazard, affecting people in Florida and across the United States.

For the study, 16 night shift workers participated in a pair of driving sessions on a closed track, with the first session testing their driving abilities after an average of 7.6 hours of sleep and the second testing them after a normal night shift. In the second session, a majority suffered some drowsiness, which was measured by an EEG during micro-sleep periods. A third were forced to end the session by performing emergency braking maneuvers. Moreover, 6 out of the 16 were involved in a near-crash event.

One-half of the sessions ended prematurely with drivers losing control of their vehicle. On average, researchers could detect signs of sleep-related impairment within the first 15 minutes of the second session. This means that even a short commute can be dangerous for night shift workers. While greater education about the causes of drowsy driving, such as a disrupted sleep schedule and a lifestyle that discourages healthy eating and exercise, may be helpful, researchers also recommend that night shift workers seek alternate forms of transportation for their way back home.

Drowsy driving is a common cause of motor vehicle accidents. Occupants of other vehicles who are involved in the crash often sustain serious injuries that require expensive medical care and treatment. Drivers owe a duty of care to others on the road, and this might be breached when a sleep-deprived motorist fails to pull over and instead nods off behind the wheel.

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