National Sleep Awareness Month reminds us to examine our sleep habits and look for ways to improve the quantity and quality of sleep we get. Ironically, it coincides with the same month that has been the month we “Spring ahead” for Daylight Savings Time – something that has shown to increase incidents of “sleepy driving accidents” – and something that will most likely be going away in 2023.
But there are many other elements in someone’s life that can increase incidents of drowsy driving – medical, lifestyle, and stress are just a few examples.
The dangers of driving drowsy, tired, or sleepy
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports a driver who has slept for less than four hours in the past 24 is as impaired as someone with a blood-alcohol level of .10%, which is over the legal limit. Yet fatigue was found to be an underlying factor in 30% of all serious and fatal car crashes.
At any moment, there are approximately 41 million drivers who are drowsy behind the wheel. This means roughly 3 out of every four drivers will suffer from a condition known as “micro-sleep” while driving. Micro-sleep occurs when a driver becomes fatigued and drifts off without realizing it.
Microsleeps occur when a person falls asleep for a few seconds, and when they occur while driving, the automobile may easily go off the road or crash with another vehicle. When these collisions occur at high speeds, the extent of the damage rises.
10 ways to stay awake while driving
Drowsy driving has become as common as drunk or inattentive driving. According to the National Sleep Foundation, around one-third of Americans admit to driving while tired. The most vulnerable populations to drowsy driving are shift workers, commercial truck drivers, and drivers under 25.
Make Sure to Get The Appropriate Amount of Restful Sleep
One of the best ways to prevent tired driving is to have a good sleep at night. This is particularly useful advice if you have a long journey ahead of you or are traveling during the holidays. For most individuals, seven to nine hours of sleep is a decent rule of thumb. But, more important than quantity is the quality of sleep. Implementing even a couple of the tips the Mayo Clinic shares with us could help you improve the quality of your sleep.
Consistently Stopping for Rest Periods While Driving
Whether you slept well the night before or not, most individuals may benefit from a fast 100-mile or two-hour driving break.
Plan your route to get out, stretch your legs, and get food or beverages at regular intervals. Remember travel is most enjoyable when the trip is about more than simply the final destination.
Don’t Make a Hassle of It
Be prepared for unexpected roadside adventures by allowing yourself additional time. Rushing increases the risk of an accident or injury since you’re less likely to take essential breaks when driving.
Avoid Nighttime Driving
Avoid driving late at night whenever possible since this is when most individuals become less aware and sleepier. Also, avoid driving during your second or third shift if you work a second or third shift.
Swap with your buddy
To help you stay awake, drive with a passenger whenever possible. If you’re worried about falling asleep behind the wheel, have a conversation with your passenger and take turns driving every couple of hours.
Take a Short Nap
Pull over to a safe location if you’re feeling drowsy while driving alone. If it’s late at night, staying at a hotel is one of the best decisions to avoid drowsiness.
Tune in to Entertaining Radio Programs
Keep your mind engaged and awake by listening to an interesting radio show while traveling alone or with a passenger who isn’t talking. Whether you listen to music, the news, or an audiobook, the radio may help you stay awake when you’re tired.
Consume Caffeine-Rich or B-Vitamin Energy Foods and Drinks
For a fast pick-me-up, stop at a petrol station and get a cup of coffee, tea, soda, or natural energy drink. Although caffeine takes roughly half an hour to reach the system, it may not benefit you much if you already drink it daily, plus the effects may wear off more quickly feeling those letdowns even more. Try meals or snacks fortified with vitamin B12 or B complex. Think about smoked salmon, leafy greens, eggs, lean ground beef (without all of the other high sugar or carbs), legumes, greek yogurt, trout, and sunflower seeds.
Avoid Drowsiness-Inducing Drugs and Alcohol
Alcohol impairs your judgment, but it also causes you to fall asleep behind the wheel. If you’re going to be driving, don’t even think about becoming drunk. Medications that produce drowsiness, whether prescribed or over-the-counter, should be avoided.
If you often have difficulty sleeping, visit your doctor to determine what may be causing the issue. Minor tiredness symptoms might sometimes indicate a more serious health problem, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy.
Drunk Driving Is Comparable to Drowsy Driving
Daily, your body needs proper sleep. However, the fewer hours of sleep you get, the more difficult it is to think and perform as effectively as you would want. Sleep deprivation may impair your alertness and impair your concentration, judgment, and response time when driving. This is referred to as cognitive impairment.
According to recent studies compiled by the CDC, going too long without sleep can impair your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle much the same way as drinking too much alcohol.
- Being awake for at least 18 hours is the same as someone having a blood content (BAC) of 0.05%.
- Being awake for at least 24 hours is equal to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10%.
Understanding these causes and effects of sleepy driving can better prepare drivers; young and old, to safely operate their automobiles when the time comes.
So! Who is the most prone to distracted driving?
In 2018, the United States stated that 25% of distracted drivers involved in fatal collisions were 20–29-year-olds. Because of this, distracted driving was responsible for 9% of all minors killed in automobile crashes. This is an important point to take note of as we’re nearing school breaks and graduations and many young drivers will be taking to the roadways for the first time in their lives — young drivers who push themselves to the limits with school and study stress, college prep, graduation prep, sports, or side jobs and social gatherings and are not necessarily practicing good sleep habits.
Additional youthful and inexperienced driving behaviors add to concerns.
In 2019, the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) data revealed texting or emailing while driving was still a large concern among youthful drivers.
- White students reported the highest number of incidents (44%)
- Hispanic students reported being the next highest number of incidents (35%)
- Black students were documented as being the third-highest number of incidents (30%)
The report also shows that students who use their phones while driving were more likely to participate in other dangerous transportation behaviors such as not wearing a seatbelt or driving under the influence.
When you couple with drowsy driving along with inattentiveness or distracted driving behaviors it becomes a recipe for disaster.
Quick Tips Roundup for preventing fatigued or drowsy driving
To avoid the dangers of driving when tired it’s important to get enough quality sleep every night. Remember, it’s recommended the average adult gets between 5 to 8 hours of sleep – but it’s the quality of the sleep that is really important.
- Before getting behind the wheel, avoid drinking alcohol. Consumption of alcohol increases tiredness and impairment by interfering with sleep.
- Check prescription or over-the-counter medications read the labels to determine if they might cause drowsiness.
- Avoid driving at night and late afternoon, when you are most likely to be drowsy.
- Keep an eye out for indicators of tiredness, such as crossing over highway lines or striking a rumble strip, particularly if you’re driving alone.
- Make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep.
- Reduced stress in your daily life – at home and work – whenever possible.
- Avoid eating ‘drowsy inducing’ foods before a long trip.
- Consume energizing quality foods and drinks before a long trip.