Drowsy drivers take to the roads every day. Working swing shift, stress,
and medical conditions can all get in the way of the getting a good night’s
rest. Knowing when to pull over and developing good sleep hygiene can
help keep you safe and mentally prepared while driving.
Effects of Drowsy Driving
You may not even realize how sleepy you are until you’ve gotten in
your car and started driving. Before you know it, the heavy yawns and
slow blinking begin. But there’s more going on than just the outward
symptoms of fatigue. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
When you get less than the recommended amount, you start to show signs
of drowsy driving, which include:
- drifting in and out the correct lane
- missing exits or turns
- mood fluctuations including increased aggression
- short-term memory loss
If you drive after getting less than four hours of sleep, your driving
ability is comparable to driving while intoxicated. The brain slows and
signals take longer to reach your body when you’re fatigued. Consequently,
reaction times slow as do problem-solving and reasoning skills. The brain
can’t make the quick decisions necessary for safe driving.
The Long-Term Cost of Drowsy Driving Accidents
Driving while sleep deprived also carries a heavy financial toll. When
you look at the costs of drowsy driving as a whole, not just on those
involved in the initial accident, the costs reach $109 billion every year.
Of course, there’s the initial medical costs and insurance, but
the financial impact may last for years.
Car accident injuries often result in damage to the brain, neck, or back,
which may require medical attention for a lifetime. Expenses that move
beyond the initial accident include emergency services costs, legal fees,
and lost wages. The lost wages can be a hard hit when trying to recover
from an accident.
Though the financial costs seem high, the loss of life is an even greater
tragedy. Nearly 6,400 people die in fatigue-related accidents each year.
If you find yourself driving while drowsy, pull over, take a short 15-minute
nap, or change drivers. It’s that simple.
Good Sleep Hygiene
To prevent sleep deprivation in the first place, you have to make sleep
a priority. Start by checking your mattress. If it’s old and lumpy,
you might need a new one. You might also need a mattress that caters to
your preferred sleep position. Once you’ve done that, you can work
on the habits that lead to better sleep.
Regular Exercise: Exercise is good for you on all accounts. It wears out
the body so you’re more tired at night and keeps you healthy.
Eat Smart: What and when you eat plays an important role in your ability to fall
asleep. A fat-rich meal close to bedtime can be uncomfortable enough to
make it hard for you to fall asleep. Try to eat at least four hours before
bedtime and keep dinner light. If hunger pains bother you, eat a light
snack before bed.
Establish a Bedtime Routine: Many people benefit from a bedtime routine. It can help get rid of stress
and signal the brain that it’s time for sleep. Light meditation,
yoga, or a warm bath all make a nice way to start a bedtime routine.
Consistent Bedtime: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day lets your body establish
healthy circadian rhythms. Following those rhythms helps you feel tired
at the same time each day.
Ben DiMaggio is a researcher for the sleep science and health organization
Tuck.com. Ben specializes in investigating how sleep, and sleep deprivation,
affect public health and safety. Ben lives in Portland, Oregon. His worst
sleep habit is checking his email right before bed.