GUEST POST: Drowsy Driving Causes Thousands of Accidents Each Year (Getting Better Sleep Can Help)

The amount of sleep you get each night directly affects the likelihood that you’ll get in a car accident. Getting less than four hours of sleep at night increases your crash rate by 11.5 times, yet thousands continue to drive with impaired judgment, reaction times, and thinking skills. Protect yourself, your family, and other drivers by taking steps to get the rest you need.

Sleep Deprivation and Driving Ability

The body needs sleep. As simple as that sounds, many people still get far less than the recommended seven to eight hours every night. Whether its stress, a medical condition, or an unusual work schedule, getting adequate rest can be a real challenge. But, sleep deprivation comes with a high price to your health.

 A sleep-deprived brain functions slower than normal. Neurons don’t fire as quickly in an attempt to get the brain to slow down enough to fall asleep. To avoid accidents drivers often have to make split-second decisions that can’t be made with slowed thinking skills and reaction times. That’s why drowsy driving can be linked to nearly 328,000 car accidents each year.

Recognize and Take Action While Driving

Heavy eyelids and frequent yawning aren’t the only signs of drowsing driving. Signs to watch for include:

 Drifting out of the traffic lane

  • Short-term memory loss where you don’t remember several traveled miles
  • Missing exits or turns

 When you notice these signs, it’s time to take action. Pull over in a safe location like a rest area or well-lit parking lot and take a 15-20 minute nap. A few minutes of sleep might be all you need to make it safely home. If you have two drivers, switch every two hours so that fatigue doesn’t compromise driving skills. The next step toward safer driving is getting better sleep.

Get the Rest You Need

The long-term solution to sleep deprivation starts by making sleep a priority. Developing good sleep habits can not only help your driving skills but boost your immune system, help maintain a healthy weight, and regulate your moods.  

 Eat Right and Avoid Stimulants

Heavy, high-fat foods eaten close to bedtime can leave you feeling uncomfortably full. Keep dinner light and healthy so you’re not tossing and turning on your mattress. Avoid caffeine and alcohol at least four hours before bedtime. Caffeine can keep you up and buzzing while alcohol can disturb your sleep cycle during the night.

 Go to Bed at the Same Time Every Night

Your body needs to establish healthy circadian rhythms. Going to bed at the same time every night supports your body’s natural rhythms. Along those same lines, getting up at the same time, even on weekends, to support healthy sleep habits.

 Stick to a Bedtime Routine

A bedtime routine helps your body and brain know when it’s time to shut down. Include anything that relaxes you such as a warm bath, deep breathing exercises, or reading a book. When performed consistently, your body starts to release the hormones that make you feel tired as you begin the routine.

**Ben DiMaggio is a researcher for the sleep science and health organization Ben specializes in investigating how sleep, and sleep deprivation, affect public health and safety. Ben lives in Portland, Oregon. His worst sleep habit is checking his email right before bed.

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