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How Common is Drowsy Driving and How Can You Prevent it?

In 2013, 72,000 vehicle accidents involved drowsy drivers. One in twenty-five adults admits to getting behind the wheel while fatigued in the last thirty days. For many Americans, stress levels, intense work schedules, and the need to find balance in family life makes getting a full seven to eight hours of sleep difficult. However, to protect yourself, your loved ones, and other drivers on the road, rest has to be a priority.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep loss is no laughing matter. As a necessary biological function, sleep helps your body rejuvenate, heal, and cleanse itself so that it can perform at peak efficiency. When you get less than seven hours of sleep you put yourself at risk for:

  • Short-Term Memory Loss: Your brain’s ability to quickly recall information decreases. You may also start to “lose” time. While driving, you may find yourself unable to recall the last few miles driven.
  • Slow Reaction Times: The brain’s synapses start to slow down with decreased sleep. That means messages don’t travel as quickly from or to the brain. Road conditions and situations can change in seconds. Without enough sleep, your brain may not be able to process information fast enough to make life-saving decisions while driving.
  • Poor/Slow Decision-Making Skills: Decision-making skills require problem-solving and reasoning that is made more difficult by lack of sleep. While you can still make decisions while sleep deprived, the quality of your decisions and speed at which you make them is compromised.

Put Safety First

Certain populations like commercial vehicle drivers, swing shift workers, business travelers, and teenagers are at higher risk for drowsy driving than others in the population. Their schedules make getting a good night’s rest difficult. But you can put safety first by recognizing the symptoms of drowsy driving and acting to make sure you’re not putting yourself and others at risk.

If you notice yourself having a hard time keeping your eyes open, drifting out of your traffic lane, missing exits or turns, or forgetting the last few miles traveled, you may need to:

  • Pull over in a safe place and take a short 15-30 minute nap.
  • Change drivers every two hours on long road trips.
  • Roll down the window or turn on loud, upbeat music.
  • Chew gum to stimulate the facial muscles and wake your senses.

Make Sleep a Priority

The best way to prevent drowsy driving accidents is to get enough sleep. When sleep becomes a priority, you’re setting yourself up for a safer and healthier lifestyle. To get better rest:

  • Be Consistent: The body thrives off of routine. Sleep on a cozy bed at the same time every day, even weekends. Along those same lines, be sure to wake up at the same time every day as well. When you keep a consistent schedule, your body accordingly adjusts the release of sleep-inducing hormones.
  • Move More and Eat Right: A healthy diet and regular exercise are a part of any health plan. Regular exercise keeps you strong, but it also helps the body feel more tired at night so you’re better prepared for bed. Your diet can have a powerful impact on your quality of sleep. Try to eat an early, light dinner to prevent discomfort from keeping you awake.
  • Avoid Stimulants and Screens: The caffeine found in soda, coffee, and energy drinks can leave you buzzing long into the night. Give your body time to get caffeine out of your system by stopping consumption four hours before bed. Your screen time can also keep you awake. Turn off the television, smartphone, laptop, and e-reader at least an hour before bed to prevent the bright light from confusing your brain into thinking it’s time to be awake.  

Guest Article Courtesy of the Tuck Sleep Foundation

Rusty Messer