Sleepiness and Safety: Where Biology Needs Technology

Sleep Biol Rhythms. 2014 Apr 1;12(2):74-84. doi: 10.1111/sbr.12067.


Maintaining human alertness and behavioral capability under conditions of sleep loss and circadian misalignment requires fatigue management technologies due to: (1) dynamic nonlinear modulation of performance capability by the interaction of sleep homeostatic drive and circadian regulation; (2) large differences among people in neurobehavioral vulnerability to sleep loss; (3) error in subjective estimates of fatigue on performance; and (4) to inform people of the need for recovery sleep. Two promising areas of technology have emerged for managing fatigue risk in safety-sensitive occupations. The first involves preventing fatigue by optimizing work schedules using biomathematical models of performance changes associated with sleep homeostatic and circadian dynamics. Increasingly these mathematical models account for individual differences to achieve a more accurate estimate of the timing and magnitude of fatigue effects on individuals. The second area involves technologies for detecting transient fatigue from drowsiness. The Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT), which has been extensively validated to be sensitive to deficits in attention from sleep loss and circadian misalignment, is an example in this category. Two shorter-duration versions of the PVT recently have been developed for evaluating whether operators have sufficient behavioral alertness prior to or during work. Another example is online tracking the percent of slow eyelid closures (PERCLOS), which has been shown to reflect momentary fluctuations of vigilance. Technologies for predicting and detecting sleepiness/fatigue have the potential to predict and prevent operator errors and accidents in safety-sensitive occupations, as well as physiological and mental diseases due to inadequate sleep and circadian misalignment.

Keywords: PERCLOS; Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT); Sleepiness; biomathematical models; drowsiness; fatigue; safety; vigilance.