Combination of moderate drinking and sleep restriction leads to greater drowsiness

The indulgence in alcohol and lack of sleep are the main causes of motor vehicle accidents that result in grave injuries or fatalities to both the person on the steering wheel and people on the road. Since driving involves complex behaviors, such as motor control, cognitive processing and visual attention, even moderate alcohol consumption (within the legal limits of driving) can prove disastrous when combined with moderate sleep restriction that triggers drowsiness.

Both cause a deficit in vigilant attention, which results in an error in judgement and a delayed response to visual stimuli in the environment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 90 people die in the United States due to motor vehicle crashes, resulting in the highest death rate among high-income countries like Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, etc. In fact, one out of three crash deaths involve drunk driving.

Sleep deprivation and alcohol intake presents a double whammy of risks

A study conducted by a group of researchers from the School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University, Australia, sought to discover the impact of alcohol consumption within legal limits for driving coupled with sleep restriction. The findings revealed that deficits in attention during either sleep restriction or alcohol intake alone were not as high as when a person was both sleep deprived and consumed moderate amount of alcohol.

The researchers tested the level of drowsiness and attention in 16 healthy young adult males between ages 18 and 27—who were either sleep deprived or consumed alcohol or both at the same time. The participants were assessed four times. During the study, sleep was restricted to only five hours a night and the participants were given enough to drink to raise the blood alcohol count (BAC) to 0.05 percent, which is lower than the legal limit for drivers in the U.S. and equivalent to that in Australia, the United Kingdom and many European countries.

The combined effects of moderate alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation were found to last from two to three hours. The participants rated their level of drowsiness while their focus and attention were assessed with their eye movement measurements and the speed of response to stimuli.

The men were tested for attention and vigilance one hour after they drank alcohol and again after every 30 minutes for two hours. When both sleep deprivation and alcohol intake were applied, they were found to be at a heightened level of impairment after 90 minutes of alcohol consumption.

Previous research has already displayed that alcohol alone can impair motor, critical thinking and decision-making skills, which can lead people to take risky decisions than when they are sober. Meanwhile, sleep deprivation has been associated with distraction and delayed response time.

Since alcohol increases drowsiness, a person who is already sleep deprived would start to feel its impact at a heightened level once he or she gets behind the wheel. Therefore, one should avoid either undertaking any safety-critical tasks while drunk or sleep deprived or both, or consuming alcohol when feeling sleepy.

Alcohol ruins life

The legal limits of BAC are determined based on the levels of alcohol in the blood of alert, non-drowsy individuals whose performance deteriorates after alcohol intake. The legal limits of BAC deter drivers from drinking and driving to prevent accidents and loss of precious lives.

A recent innovation from the Finnish company Goodwiller in collaboration with VTT is a welcome self-diagnostic test that allows a person to measure one’s BAC using his or her saliva within minutes. As the testing kit fits easily into a small wallet, it provides an easy and convenient solution to avoid drunk driving.

If you or someone you know is addicted to alcohol and is looking for alcohol addiction treatment centers in the U.S., contact the Alcohol Addiction Get Help Helpline for assistance and guidance. Call our 24/7 helpline number (866) 281-3014 or chat online with our experts to know about some of the finest alcohol addiction treatment centers in your vicinity.