A recent study finds that drivers who have consumed a small amount of alcohol and have not gotten enough sleep could present serious dangers, even if their blood alcohol content (BAC) levels remain below the legal limit of .08 percent.
The study was conducted by researchers from the Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience at Monash University in Australia. Researchers tested attention and drowsiness in 16 healthy young men who were sleep deprived, had recently consumed alcohol or both.
They discovered a combination of moderate alcohol consumption that put the drivers close to the legal limit and five hours or less of sleep per night produced larger deficits in attention than alcohol intake or sleep deprivation independently. The combined effects of sleep deprivation and alcohol intake lasted two to three hours. Researchers concluded that no amount of alcohol was safe for people who had experienced poor or inadequate sleep.
Clare Anderson, a co-author of the study, said the take-home message for the study is that people should “avoid alcohol when feeling sleepy and have a short nap before attempting to drive or undertaking any other safety critical task.”
Study tests individuals’ attention, responsiveness
The subjects were men between the ages of 18 and 27. They were assessed four times. During each assessment, researchers asked participants to rate their level of drowsiness, and then would test their focus and attention by measuring eye movements. They would also examine the speed of the subjects’ response to stimuli by seeing how fast they were able to press a button when an image appeared on a screen.
Researchers started by conducting these tests without any intervention. They then repeated all the same assessments with participants who had consumed alcohol and/or were experiencing sleep deprivation.
When not subjected to the experimental conditions, the men usually went to bed between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. and woke up between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. For the purposes of creating a state of sleep deprivation, they were only allowed to sleep from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. the night before a testing session.
Alcohol testing sessions were performed more than four hours after the participants woke up. The participants in the study were given enough alcohol to get to a BAC of .05 percent, the legal limit in Australia and slightly less than the legal limit of .08 in the United States. Researchers then tested the men’s attention one hour after drinking, and again every 30 minutes for two hours.
When exposed to both sleep deprivation and alcohol intake, the men were most impaired approximately 90 minutes after drinking. It took about 2.5 hours, on average, for them to return to safe performance levels.
The results of the study are important, as they demonstrate once again that even people who do not feel “buzzed” from drinking could still be dangerous when behind the wheel of a vehicle. Therefore, it’s best to avoid driving altogether after consuming alcohol in any amount.
If you have been involved in an accident with an impaired driver, you may need to take legal action. Work with a skilled New York personal injury lawyer at The Law Offices of Evan W. Kohn to learn more about your options.