Wakefulness in young and elderly subjects driving at night in a car simulator

Accid Anal Prev. 2009 Sep;41(5):1001-7. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2009.05.014. Epub 2009 Jun 24.


Young drivers are over-represented in nighttime traffic accidents and several studies have suggested that many accidents are associated with elevated sleepiness levels. It has been suggested that there may be a connection between lowered wake capacity and functional sensory motor skills on the one hand and sleep deprivation at the circadian low in young drivers on the other. Performance during a 45/min evening and night drive among young (n=10, age range 18-24 years) and elderly (n=10, age range 55-64 years) subjects was studied using a moving base driving simulator. EEG was measured continuously. Every 5 min, subjects were rated on the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (KSS). Saliva cortisol was assessed before and after each drive. The results showed that sleepiness increased across each drive and was higher among young drivers at night. Relative EEG power increased among older drivers for frequencies of 10-16Hz. The sigma 1 frequency band (12-14Hz) proved particularly sensitive to sustained driving, and was elevated among subjects in the elderly group. Cortisol levels before and after the evening and night drive showed higher mean levels for elderly subjects. The present study has demonstrated that young drivers were more sleepy while driving at night. The effects could represent a mobilization of effort and a reorganization of brain firing pattern among older subjects, possibly reflecting better ability and effort to resist sleepiness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention*
  • Automobile Driving / statistics & numerical data*
  • Automobiles / statistics & numerical data*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Cognition
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception*
  • Psychometrics
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone