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Wake up! Avoid the dangers of drowsy driving with these tips

Health Hub
Author name: Lee Health

A lousy night of sleeping has you yawning from the moment you put your feet on the floor. Batches of strong coffee and sugar have kept you going in spurts throughout your day, but now you have to get behind the wheel for your commute home.

Maybe your sleep schedule is out of whack because of a vacation or a road trip – and you are facing a long stretch of highway before you can call it a day.

No matter the circumstance, no matter the distance, getting behind the wheel when you are tired is more dangerous than you think. In fact, did you know that drowsy driving can be as dangerous as driving drunk?

It’s true: A driver who’s slept less than five hours has a crash risk similar to someone impaired by alcohol.

The statistics about the dangers of driving drowsy are eye-opening. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that 6,400 people died last year in a car crash involving a drowsy driver.

That’s out of 328,000 total accidents in which someone fell asleep at the wheel. What’s more, almost 6,500 people died and another 110,000 were injured in those accidents.

Falling asleep behind the wheel is dangerous, obviously, but drowsiness:

  • Makes you less able to pay attention to the road
  • Slows reaction time if you have to brake or steer suddenly
  • Affects your ability to make good decisions

It doesn’t take much missed sleep to make you drowsy, either. Most of us know about the risks of driving under the influence.

But drowsiness impairs your judgment, performance, and reaction times in much the same way. If you miss one to two hours of sleep, you double your crash risk. Skip two or three hours and your risk of a crash soars by 400 percent.

The first week of November is Drowsy Driving Prevention week, so here are some essential things to know, courtesy of the National Safety Council, to keep yourself – and the thousands of drivers around you – safe!

Get some sleep

Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But with so many distractions, responsibilities, and stresses, we typically fall short of that mark.

“More than 15 percent of people report difficulty falling or staying asleep,” says Dr. Aastha Parsa, a board-certified physician with Lee Health. “Seventy million American are sleep deprived or have sleep disorders. Not only is our lack of sleep putting us in harm’s way behind the wheel of our cars, but it’s also hurting our health and quality of life.”

Sleep deprivation has been linked to all kinds of diseases and disorders such as obesity, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, depression, and early onset dementia.

Remember to stick to a regular sleep schedule, even on the weekends. Avoid electronics at least an hour before bed, don’t eat a lot before lying down, and try to keep your bedroom environment cool, calm, and quiet, Dr. Parsa recommends.

Talk to your doctor about potential sleep issues. You might have sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or you may just need help coming up with a better lifestyle plan.

Getting drowsy? Be sure you stay aware of the warning signs on the road:

  • Yawning or blinking frequently.
  • Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven.
  • Missing your exit.
  • Drifting from your lane.
  • Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road.

Here’s how to prevent a drowsy driving crash:

It’s as simple as this: Don’t drive when you are tired. Don’t drive if your medication warns about drowsiness. Don’t drive when you would normally be sleeping and even if you’ve ingested even the smallest amount of alcohol.

One thing to remember: Relying on loud music or rushing air from an open window will not keep you awake.

In fact, if you find yourself turning up the music, drinking lots of coffee, and putting your head out the window to get refreshed – it’s time to pull over for a 15-20 minute nap.

If you are planning a long drive, be sure you bring a friend along so you can take turns! If you can’t find a spot to nap or you have no one with you, try to have someone pick you up.

It may sound like a hassle – but it’s better than endangering yourself and innocent people around you. Motor vehicle crashes from impaired driving are the number one trauma alert during the holiday season. Keep yourself and others out of the trauma ward!


Need to talk to a Lee Health sleep specialist? Click our new and improved Sleep Medicine page.