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Reuters Health story on light therapy for drivers is a shining example of solid medical journalism

Rating

5 Star

Categories

Driving home from night shift may be safer with light therapy

Our Review Summary

Night Expressway Abstract Speeding Semi Trailer TruckThe U. S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which conducts research on driver behavior and traffic safety, estimates that drowsy driving causes at least 100,000 auto crashes each year.  This Reuters story describes a recent study that found that exposing sleep-deprived participants to 45 minutes of bright light before putting them into a driving simulator eliminated the simulated car crashes that occurred when those participants were exposed only to dim light.

This story was well done–it gives ample space (albeit lower in the text) to the study’s limitations and to the caution of researchers not affiliated with the study that the only proven remedy for sleepiness is…sleep. Ample independent researchers were included, and the measured benefits of the intervention are stated clearly.

 

Why This Matters

Sleep deprivation is common among folks who work night shifts, and even among the general public.  While societal calls for getting a good 7 to 8 hours’ sleep—still the only proven remedy for the problem—are growing, both the sleep-deprived and their physicians continue to seek ways to manage sleepiness, from caffeine consumption to cars that notice sloppy driving patterns and suggest the driver take a break.  Exposure to bright light as an alerting mechanism has been studied for years and may join the coping arsenal if further studies support its use.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Cost information is not provided, but the cost of a bright light is presumably reasonable.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story is specific about the number of sleep-deprived participants who crashed their simulated cars after exposure to dim light (5) compared to those whose simulated drive home was preceded by 45 minutes of bright light (0).

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Exposure to light in this way isn’t harmful, so we’ll rate this N/A. However, such a therapy could encourage people to skip on an intervention that would be more effective such as sleep. Or it could inure a false sense of security.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

The writer devotes an entire paragraph to the limits of the study, which include a small number of participants (19) and the generalizability problems that stem from experiments in lab settings.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

Sleepy drivers are dangerous drivers, so this study focuses on a real risk.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

A strong point of this story is how sources in the story are clearly identified as aligned with or independent of the study, and there were several of them.  We could find no potential conflicts of interest with the researcher who was interviewed.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

An independent source notes that the only “proven” way to avoid the effects of drowsiness when driving is “to consistently get enough sleep.”  Other strategies for remaining alert behind the wheel are also mentioned.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

One can find many studies of the role of bright light in reducing symptoms of sleepiness, but none of that context finds its way into this story.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

A release relevant to this story did not emerge from our search efforts.  The addition of independent sources bolsters the idea that enterprise reporting undergirds this text.

Total Score: 6 of 7 Satisfactory

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