A recent Harvard study draws an alarming connection between working the night shift and being in a car accident.

Many of us have gotten behind the wheel without adequate rest, whether we are heading to work after a poor night of sleep or driving home late at night. But a new study by Harvard researchers may give you reason to rethink your sleep and driving habits.

A recent study by the university’s Division of Sleep Medicine examined the effects of working the night shift on drivers’ focus and ability. According to Journalist’s Resource, clocking in for the graveyard shift can lead to dangerous driving behaviors that significantly increase the likelihood of a crash. Read on to learn more.

Working at night can be dangerous

In the study, researchers observed two sets of night shift workers on a closed driving course. One group had slept for at least five hours before the test and the second group had just completed an overnight shift. An observer rode in the front seat with each driver to make observations and prevent crashes with an emergency brake if needed.

The emergency brake was needed for more than 35 percent of the drives performed by workers after a shift. None of the well-rested workers required interference from the observer. Perhaps even more startling, 7 out of 16 drives performed after night-shift work had to be terminated prematurely because the drivers could not keep control of the vehicle.

All of the near-crashes and drive terminations in the study occurred at least 45 minutes after the drive began, indicating that longer drive durations pose a greater risk of sleep-related accidents.

Protect yourself and other drivers

If you work the night shift, there are certain steps you can take to combat drowsy driving and decrease your risk of being involved in a crash:

  • If public transit is available, consider skipping the drive altogether so you don’t have to worry about driving safely.
  • Make sure you get adequate rest before work so you’re as alert as possible when you have to drive home.
  • If possible, use a break to take a brief nap and recharge.
  • If you can’t get enough sleep before hitting the road, drink a cup of coffee to temporarily increase your alertness.