Towards a portable test for tiredness

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Saliva or blood tests may one day be used to detect when we’re too tired to drive or think clearly according to a Monash University-led study.

The study found specific biological markers (biomarkers) linked to reduced alertness, including eye movement patterns, blood-based metabolites, chemiresistor signal responses and various speech parameters.

If these can be used to develop a test, they hope to see it on the road and in the workplace within the next two-to-five years.

“We’ve conducted studies in a variety of settings including controlled laboratory environments, occupational settings and on-road driving.

“This is a major step forward in the pathway to developing objective tests of fitness to work or drive,” said Professor Shantha Rajaratnam, Sleep Program Leader at Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences, and at the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity (Alertness CRC).

Nearly 20 per cent of all serious motor vehicle accidents in Australia are caused by a drowsy driver. In the workplace, more than 10,000 serious injuries occur every year because of sleepy workers.

“The problem is people just keep working or driving despite having a hard time staying awake. They don’t recognise their symptoms of drowsiness and the danger these represent,” Professor Rajaratnam said.

Professor Rajaratnam is working with Alertness CRC collaborators, including theme leaders Associate Professor Clare Anderson (also of MICCN), and Associate Professor Mark Howard from the Institute for Breathing and Sleep at Austin Health.

“Biomarkers of sleepiness will provide the foundation for more effective road safety laws and public education about when an individual is too sleepy to drive,” Professor Rajaratnam said.

These biomarkers will form the basis of future technologies and devices that can become part of alertness tests used in the workplace and in roadside settings.

“Comparable to alcohol, this might take the form of saliva or blood tests,” he said.

This article was first published on Australian stories website. A collection of stories from around Australia of collaborations with Indonesia: supported by the Australian-Indonesia Centre.