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Can 'anti-sleep' alarms really help you stay awake while driving?

Friday, May 06, 2016 by Simon Block

They market themselves as “life-saving technology” and promise to keep you awake behind the wheel, but what’s the story behind these ‘anti-sleep’ and ‘stay-awake’ apps?

How do they work and do they even work?

I investigated…


Why these ‘anti-sleep’ alarms and apps exist

There’s no denying the people behind these apps likely understand the dangers of drowsiness, especially driving or performing other critical tasks while drowsy.

‘Anti-sleep’ alarms or ‘stay-awake’ apps are designed to be cheap and simple solutions to drowsiness – especially for drivers – but they fall short when you compare them to the scientific collaboration, research and testing that make up Optalert’s drowsiness detection product and technology.

Stay-awake app

Can an app really keep you awake? Real-time vs. predictive

Real-time

Many of the ‘anti-sleep’ alarms and apps out today promote the real-time notion of their technology. But often, when they say real-time, they’re referring to real-time response rather than real-time monitoring.

A real-time alarm rings or a device vibrates when the app recognises (or thinks it is recognising) a sleep incident. As a result, these apps should be considered as ‘wake-up’ apps, rather than ‘stay-awake’ apps.

The real-time app responds only when it registers that something is not right, and by that time, a driver may have already slipped into a micro sleep and his car may already be crossing road lines.

Predictive

Optalert’s technology, on the other hand, provides predictive, actionable data that is monitored in real-time. That means you as a driver (and staff monitoring a fleet of drivers or operators) can see in real-time your level of drowsiness – even if you’re in the ‘low-risk’ range, as determined by the Johns Drowsiness Scale (JDS).

We also refer to the word anticipatory when describing our product, that is, the technology can accurately anticipate a user’s needs. While no one (yourself included) can actually predict when you are going to fall asleep, Optalert’s technology can predict a greater risk of you falling asleep using the JDS.


Do these apps really keep drivers alert?

Many of these apps also throw around the promise that they keep drivers alert, when really this is not the case at all. Rather, they monitor a user’s actions (for example, hand movements on the steering wheel), and only when they determine a potential incident involving sleep do they react.

There are things a driver can do to keep alert, but, besides sleep, most of these are only temporary. An app cannot keep you awake. Examples that may temporarily help you stay awake while driving include:

• Coffee
• Having a power nap
• A combination of both

The fixes are only temporary, and cannot be used as a substitute for good-quality sleep.


Reaction time is an important element of these apps

Many apps we read about used reaction time as a determinant of a driver’s fatigue level. For example, a driver might be asked to periodically tap a smartphone popup or move their hand to acknowledge that they’re awake.

These apps can decide that a slower reaction time is the moment to sound their alarm and jolt their driver.  What these apps neglect to address is outliers or distractions that affect the reaction time to perform these tasks. Concentrating hard as you navigate through a tricky intersection, talking to passengers in the back seat, or changing a CD are all common things we do in the car.

Taking an extra moment to tap a screen may mean you’re feeling drowsy and experiencing drowsiness, but then again, it mightn’t. This uncertainty seems to be a consistent grey area amongst many sleep apps and doesn’t deliver a consistent result.


Do you know how drowsy you are?

Another app lists one of their features during set up as the ability to tell the app how drowsy you are before you start driving.

Red alert: we humans are a stubborn bunch

We cannot predict our levels of drowsiness, just as we cannot predict when we are going to fall asleep.

Telling an app you’re not drowsy, when in fact you don’t actually know if you are drowsy, is skewing results and outcomes from the very beginning.


The eyes are the windows to your soul…

…but what good is a response from an app when your eyes have already closed?

Another app uses the front-facing camera feature of your smartphone to monitor your eyes. They determine open eyes, but as soon as your eyes close, they sound a loud alarm. Again, this taps in to the notion of a real-time response that might actually be too late.


Micro sleep

Without even recognising that you’re tired, a micro sleep can happen with little to no warning. In many cases, a micro sleep follows common signs of drowsiness, including heavy eyelids, constant yawning, and the inability to remember the last few minutes of travel, but sometimes, it might happen without warning.

While we can look out for and recognise these signs, we still cannot predict the actual moment we’ll fall asleep – so you don’t know whether you’ve got it left in you to make it home in time or not.


Anti-sleep alarms and apps

While it seems many of the apps available for download on our smartphones have the right intentions, they cannot beat the decades of research, testing, and refinement behind Optalert’s drowsiness detection system.

With products available for industrial and personal usage, there really are no more excuses for drowsy driving.

Which Optalert product is right for you? Take the quiz and find out in just a few minutes!

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