Are mums safe at wheel?

In one of the first studies ever, Flinders University sleep experts are investigating the driving performance of mothers of infants.

The researchers are calling for more South Australian participants to work out whether parents of children with sleep problems are at risk on the road.

“The birth of a new baby brings about profound changes in parents’ lives. Feelings of joy and reward are often coupled with major financial, psychological, and physiological challenges, with parents’ sleep one of the most profound changes,” says Professor Michael Gradisar, director of the Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic at Flinders University.

Parent sleep satisfaction has been shown to sharply decline following childbirth, and not fully recover for up to 6 years after becoming a parent (Richter et al., 2019). This problem is most severe for those 20-30% of parents whose infants have sleep problems.

Previous studies have demonstrated the adverse consequences of poor and insufficient sleep for parents’ emotional and cognitive functioning. However, no study has yet to systematically assess whether parents’ driving performance is also affected.

A new Flinders University study led by Professor Gradisar tackles this question for the first time, comparing the driving performance of mothers of infants with and without sleep problems.

Preliminary results suggest that driving performance of mothers of infants who sleep poorly may be compromised. The study is ongoing, and we are looking to recruit additional mothers of infants aged 6-24 months, that either sleep well or poorly.

Participation includes one visit to the Flinders Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic, in which mothers perform a ~25 min simulated driving task and complete questionnaires.

Participants receive a $30 gift voucher for their time and effort. If they wish, they may also receive a free infant sleep education session.

The results of this study will inform policy makers and the general parent public whether poor or restricted sleep in the postpartum period may be a risk factor for deficient driving performance.

If the expected links are in fact found, raising parents’ awareness to this issue may be important to assure that both they, their children, and other drivers and passengers remain safe on the road.

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