Driving Home After A Night Shift Is Way More Scary Than You Thought

Working the night shift is a known health hazard. Scientists theorize that staying awake at night goes against our natural circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock, which is why people who work after hours are more prone to heart attacks, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stroke and depression.

The drive home after a night shift can be hazardous too, confirms a small but compelling new study involving a global team of researchers from Boston and Australia. They conducted daytime driving tests on a closed driving track among 16 night shift workers who had just come off the job. The study found that the volunteers’ driving was dangerously worse after work than if they’d had a full night’s sleep.

Six of the participants (37.5 percent) had 11 near-crashes during the driving test, which required the safety supervisors to use their emergency brakes to prevent a collision. The researchers terminated the two-hour driving test early for seven participants (43.8 percent) over concerns for the safety of everyone in the car. Based on the numbers, the researchers suggest that the night shift workers and their employers find a way for workers to get home that doesn’t involve getting into the driver’s seat of a car, or come up with strategies to reduce drowsiness after a shift.

“These findings help to explain why night shift workers have so many more motor vehicle crashes than day workers, particularly during the commute home,” said study co-author Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, in a statement.

The study is the first time researchers have assessed the impact of night shift work on driving in real vehicles, as opposed to using a simulated method.