12 Feb Not Enough ZZZs? Drowsy Driving Is Impaired Driving
Driving while sleepy or fatigued carries similar risks as driving drunk. The following tips can help you get a good night’s sleep and stay awake and safe on the road.
Drowsy driving, or operating a vehicle while sleepy or fatigued, has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. In 2017, the National Safety Council (NSC) published a study that found 47% of Americans admitted not getting enough sleep to prevent risky driving behaviors on the road, and 16% said they dozed off while driving within the past month.
As part of the study, the NSC identified nine risk factors for driver fatigue:
- Shift work
- Late work hours
- Physically or cognitively demanding work
- Long work shifts
- Long work weeks
- Sleep loss
- Lack of work breaks
- Quick work shift returns
- Long commutes
About 97% of respondents had at least one of these risk factors. Driving while fatigued or drowsy is an issue that afflicts most drivers throughout the country, yet may not be treated as seriously as other risky road behaviors such as impaired driving. This is despite the fact that the NSC determined that driving after a night with less than five hours of sleep carries a similar crash risk as impaired driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2013 drowsy driving was responsible for about 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe that road fatalities relating to fatigued driving are underestimated, and it may be the cause of up to 6,000 deaths per year.
While lack of sleep is still used by some highly productive and busy people as a badge of honor, there should be no mistake — drowsy driving is impaired driving, carrying with it substantial risks for the driver and anyone with whom he or she shares the road.
That being said, there are a handful of steps that you can take to prevent drowsy driving and stay safe.
Improving Your Sleep Hygiene
The No. 1 thing that a driver can do to prevent drowsy driving is getting a good night’s sleep. But that might be easier said than done. Not all sleep is created equal, and sometimes even an adequate amount of sleep — measured by hours — may not leave you feeling completely well-rested. A good night’s sleep consists of quality and quantity.
To make sure you’re getting the most out of your sleep, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a few helpful tips to improve your sleep “hygiene” or habits related to sleep:
- Sleep and wake at consistent times every day, including weekends. Though it may be tempting to “sleep in” on your days off, establishing a regular sleep rhythm can make sure your body knows when to stay awake. Keep changes in your sleep schedule no more than an hour earlier or later than your set bedtime.
- Establish one hour of quiet time before sleeping. Avoid loud music or strenuous exercise, which can keep you alert, and disrupt your sleep. Screens from mobile devices, computers, and bright lights from outside should also be avoided — your sleeping area should be as dark as possible.
- Stay away from heavy meals or alcohol right before bed.
- Avoid consuming nicotine or caffeine. These are stimulants, so they will keep you awake.
- Keeping physically active on a daily basis, especially outdoors, can help maintain a regular sleep rhythm.
- Ensure that your bedroom or sleep space is quiet, cool, and dark for optimum sleeping conditions and the best rest.
- If you still have difficulty sleeping, take a hot bath and/or practice relaxation techniques, such as deep-breathing exercises before going to bed.
If none of these techniques work or you still feel fatigued after an ostensibly “good” night’s sleep, consult your physician. You may have an undiagnosed condition — such as sleep apnea — that will require further testing and consultation with a sleep medicine professional.
On the Road
Driving can be one of the most exhausting activities of your day, particularly if you have a long commute or drive a vehicle as part of your job. If you find yourself behind the wheel for extended periods of time, the National Sleep Foundation offers a few suggestions to stay awake, alert, and safe while on the road:
- Drive in two-hour shifts with resting stops in between.
- If you begin to feel drowsy while driving or find yourself dozing off, safely pull over and park as soon as possible to take a nap. Arriving at your destination late is preferable to getting into a crash.
- Drink a caffeinated beverage. While caffeine is not a substitute for sleep, a caffeinated beverage can help you feel more awake after a short nap.
- Travel with a passenger who is fully awake. Having someone who can help keep you awake or alert you if you’re drowsy can help prevent an accident. If possible, drive in shifts with your passenger.
While it may seem like no big deal to drive while feeling a little sleepy, drowsy driving can be deadly — but the cure is simple: a good night’s sleep.