The dangers of somnolence and sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a reality on the Dakar rally as well as adventure rides. Usually about the fourth or fifth day of riding 600-mile stages, sleep deprivation begins. Most factory riders go to sleep around 10 p.m. and then wake up anywhere from three a.m. to 6 a.m. to leave the bivouac, depending on the stage.

Mental stamina is something you build just like anything else. Dakar Rally racer Ricky Brabec told me that he went through several road books and hours of riding preparing for this years Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.

The Italian Rider Story

A vivid example of a preventable accident attributed to somnolence and dehydration during the 2004 Dakar rally is the story of a veteran Italian rider. The Red Bull KTM team physician, Johnathan Edwards narrates.

During the second to the last stage, at the border of Mauritania and Senegal, I was with the mechanics and Marc Coma; we were at the gas station, and the riders had just completed the special. Suddenly, there was a loud thump, and we promptly saw a pair of boots in the sky and a totaled motorcycle. We rushed to the rider, lying on the ground, his right wrist obviously broken and deformed. He was confused and we attempted to keep him still as to examine his medical situation; he attempted to stand up and then collapsed immediately. I was very concerned he could have had internal bleeding along with severe dehydration. During this time, a riot had broken out and some of the locals were trying to take things from the bike and even from his jacket; we transported the rider with a shovel board into the shade. I started an intra-venous line and gave over two liters of fluids in his body to overcome the severe dehydration and thankfully he came to his senses.

Why was this rider unable to avoid the car?

First, severe dehydration was probably the main factor; although he easily could have had internal bleeding. Second, he was lacking mental focus as we were in near the end of the rally and he was on a liaison after the special. Dehydration could have easily resulted from only using water instead of an electrolyte replacement drink. I verified that he was only drinking after checking his camelback. Furthermore, by not replacing electrolytes, the result is a decrease in the sodium, potassium, and calcium levels. A small decrease (even two to three points) in sodium level will cause changes in mental awareness. Small decreases in calcium will cause muscle weakness and fatigue. The list goes on, thus the importance of replacing electrolytes can not be underestimated. Accidents like this one can be prevented. As the rally is mentally draining, one must do everything possible to prevent mental fatigue.