Most people know that driving while sleep-deprived isn’t a good idea, although they may admit to doing it at some time or another. The risks associated with drowsy driving may not even be something that crosses your mind, but it’s important to know that operating any kind of vehicle while drowsy is not only risky — it can be fatal.
As revealed in a New York Times article, two recent train crashes were associated with the failure to screen for sleep apnea, one crash resulting in a fatality. Why is “driving while drowsy” so dangerous, and what can you do to keep yourself safe on the road?
Today, we share the facts as well as a few tips you can implement to test whether you’re alert enough to drive or if you should pull over.
Without adequate sleep, your brain’s important cognitive functions — like alertness, performance, and coordination — start to drastically decline, making it more difficult to drive safely.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently reported that one in ten U.S. crashes are the result of drowsy driving, which is nearly eight times more than what was previously estimated by federal regulators, according to NBC News. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has conservatively estimated that over 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year.
Additionally, AAA revealed that people who sleep only five to six hours in a 24-hour period are two times more likely to crash than those who sleep for seven hours. This proves that a difference of just one or two hours of sleep per night can drastically increase your risk of a crash.
Indicating the prevalence of drowsy driving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shared that an estimated one in 25 adult drivers report that they have fallen asleep behind the wheel in the past 30 days.
Clearly, the data surrounding this issue confirms that drowsy driving is a serious national problem that definitively puts your health and life at risk, as well as those who may be in the car with you.
Who is at Risk for Drowsy Driving?
Because we all require sleep to function, anyone can experience fatigue when they have not gotten enough rest, and therefore be more at risk for drowsy driving. But some individuals and groups of people are more at risk than others. According to the National Sleep Foundation, those specifically at risk include:
- Shift workers and people who work long hours. Working a night shift increases drowsy driving risk by almost six times
- Commercial drivers
- Anyone driving at night
- Those with untreated sleep disorders. People with untreated obstructive sleep apnea are nearly seven times more likely to fall asleep at the wheel
- Anyone experiencing short-term or chronic sleep deprivation
- Males under 26 years old
If you notice yourself or the driver of a car you’re riding in displaying any of the following signs, pull the car over to rest or change drivers before continuing the trip.
- Yawning or blinking frequently
- Head slowly tilting forward and then jolting upright
- Driving past an exit
- Drifting between lanes
- Trouble remembering the last few miles
- Hitting the rumble strip on the side of the road
How to Avoid Drowsy Driving
For many, making it a priority to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night will go a long way in preventing drowsy driving. For shift workers and those that work into the night, this can be a more difficult task, but there are a few strategies you can implement to encourage optimal functioning of your body’s natural sleep-wake rhythms and feel more well-rested.
As mentioned above, those with untreated obstructive sleep apnea are seven times more at risk of driving while drowsy. If you often find yourself exhibiting any of the above warning signs — drifting between lanes, driving past your exit, or frequently yawning or blinking — in combination with any of the issues below, you should consider visiting a sleep specialist to uncover the root cause of your issues.
- Loud, chronic snoring
- Frequent waking throughout the night
- Waking with a gasp or choking sound
- Waking up feeling more tired than before you went to sleep
- Difficulty completing everyday tasks
- Inability to focus
- Lack of energy
- Sore throat or dry mouth in the morning
If you’re interested in seeking treatment, request a free consultation or give us a call today. Dr. Jeff Rodgers and the sleep specialists at Sleep Better, Georgia can assess your sleep issues and determine the proper diagnosis and treatment.