Summary Breaks are often used by drivers to counteract sleepiness and time‐on‐task fatigue during prolonged driving. We examined the temporal profile of changes in driving performance, electroencephalogram (EEG) activity and subjective
measures of sleepiness and fatigue during prolonged nocturnal driving in a car simulator. In addition, the study examined the impact of regular breaks from driving on performance, sleepiness and fatigue. Healthy volunteers (n = 12, 23–45 years) maintained a regular
sleep–wake pattern for 14 days and were then in a laboratory from 21:00 to 08:30 hours. The driving simulator scene was designed to simulate monotonous night‐time rural driving. Participants drove 4 × 2‐h test sessions, with a break from driving of
1 h between each session. During the break participants performed tests assessing sleepiness and fatigue, and psychomotor performance (∼30 mins), and then were permitted to sit quietly. They were monitored for wakefulness, and not permitted to nap or ingest caffeine. EEG was
recorded during the driving task, and subjective assessments of sleepiness and fatigue were obtained at the start and completion of each session. We found that driving performance deteriorated (2.5‐fold), EEG delta, theta and alpha activity increased, and subjective sleepiness and fatigue
ratings increased across the testing period. Driving performance and fatigue ratings improved following the scheduled breaks from driving, while the breaks did not affect EEG activity and subjective sleepiness. Time‐on‐task effects increased through the testing period, indicating
that these effects are exacerbated by increasing sleepiness. Breaks from driving without sleep temporarily ameliorate time‐on‐task fatigue, but provide little benefit to the sleepy driver.