August 16, 2009
Precious Cargo – Are you safe behind the wheel?
You wear your seatbelt, never speed, and always break when there’s a yellow light. By all accounts, you’re a safe driver. Unfortunately, there’s still a good chance that you unknowingly fall into a group that’s at a drastically increased risk of having an accident, too — drowsy drivers.
No, it’s not just all-night truckers and evening shift workers who should be concerned. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), about a quarter of American adults say they know someone who has crashed because they fell asleep while driving. And while most related crashes do happen after midnight, mid-afternoon is next in line.
If just the thought of that scares you, you’ll likely be even further stunned by these break-slamming statistics:
-Drowsy driving can be pinpointed as the cause of more than 100,000 crashes, 40,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths each year — and experts say that these numbers greatly under represent the actual number of related cases.
-Sleeping 6 to 7 hours a night puts you at two times the risk of being in a crash as people who sleep for at least 8 hours. Sleeping less than 5 hours bumps that risk to 4 to 5 times more, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Even if you don’t feel like you’re going to completely nod off while on the road, sleepiness can hamper your ability to process information you hear, see or otherwise experience — a blaring car horn, a deer crossing, or your tires slipping on an icy road. And, in what can be a deadly combination, it can slow how quickly you react.
We are programmed to be less wakeful when it is dark out, and the cycle in which we get our sleep is non-negotiable. No amount of will can keep you awake and alert enough to operate a vehicle safely if you haven’t gotten an adequate amount of sound snooze time.
If you’ve been struggling to get enough quality sleep:
Give yourself a bedtime
Don’t get wrapped up in those late-night TV shows or purposeless Internet surfing.
Make sure your as comfortable as possible
Keep your room cool and quiet, and replace your mattress as recommended (every 7 years).
See your doctor
You may have an underlying and treatable condition that could be interfering with your sleep.
And should you ever find yourself dozing while driving, follow these tips from the NSF:
A 15-20 minute nap can improve alertness and performance in the short-term. Anything longer can actually worsen your driving abilities. Choose a well-lit location.
Drinking a caffeinated beverage, like coffee, can give you a temporary burst. You should note, however, that it cannot be relied on for long drives and takes about 30 minutes from consumption to “kick in.”
Call it a night
If you’re fighting the good fight, remember, you will lose. Give your body the break it needs by deciding that wherever you have to go can wait until the morning.
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Check out some of our other Sleep Health Ariticles!