In the blink of an eye: The circadian effects on ocular and subjective indices of driver sleepiness
Driver sleepiness contributes substantially to fatal and severe crashes and the contribution it makes to less serious crashes is likely to as great or greater. Currently, drivers’ awareness of sleepiness (subjective sleepiness) remains a critical component for the mitigation of sleep-related crashes. Nonetheless, numerous calls have been made for technological monitors of drivers’ physiological sleepiness levels so drivers can be ‘alerted’ when approaching high levels of sleepiness. Several physiological indices of sleepiness show potential as a reliable metric to monitor drivers’ sleepiness levels, with eye blink indices being a promising candidate. However, extensive evaluations of eye blink measures are lacking including the effects that the endogenous circadian rhythm can have on eye blinks. To examine the utility of ocular measures, 26 participants completed a simulated driving task while physiological measures of blink rate and duration were recorded after partial sleep restriction. To examine the circadian effects participants were randomly assigned to complete either a morning or an afternoon session of the driving task. The results show subjective sleepiness levels increased over the duration of the task. The blink duration index was sensitive to increases in sleepiness during morning testing, but was not sensitive during afternoon testing. This finding suggests that the utility of blink indices as a reliable metric for sleepiness are still far from specific. The subjective measures had the largest effect size when compared to the blink measures. Therefore, awareness of sleepiness still remains a critical factor for driver sleepiness and the mitigation of sleep-related crashes.