Sleep Deprivation and Driving: More Dangerous than You Realized

This time of year, drunk driving is always a concern, and it should be. Perhaps you have not considered, though, how dangerous it can be to drive drowsy. We are all very busy during the holiday season. Between parties, family gatherings, shopping, and decorating, more than a few of us are not getting as much sleep as we usually do.

That is particularly concerning because, even when it is not the holiday season, an estimated one in five adults are not getting the seven to nine hours of sleep recommended by most physicians. There are a few people who require more or less sleep to function optimally, but most of us fall somewhere in that range. Many are deprived due to sleep disorders or mental health issues, while others are robbed of sleep by excessive work hours, new babies, or children with disabilities. Parents are so frequently sleep deprived that most people consider it a joke.

The consequences of a lack of sleep are numerous and rather dangerous. Especially if it becomes a chronic issue, the risk of severe health problems, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, can increase dramatically. Of course sleep deprivation also leads to a host of psychomotor problems, including delayed reaction time. It is further associated with poor decision making, irritability, and tunnel vision.

This all leads to what amounts to impaired driving. In fact so called drowsy driving accidents result in fatalities and injury severity at rates similar to drunk driving. It is incredibly dangerous and wildly underestimated. We all have busy lives, but driving when you have not had sufficient sleep creates a hazardous situation for yourself and others. In fact psychomotor skills tests of people who have not had sufficient sleep are equivalent to someone with a BAC between 0.05% and 0.1%.

So, what can we do to keep ourselves and our communities safe? We all get busy and have disruptions and issues in our lives. Here are some ways to ensure you and the people you love are getting sufficient sleep.

  • Set boundaries around work time. Many people struggle with working too many hours. It is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Set a reasonable time when you will go home – even when it is busy – and stick to it. A well rested person performs better at work, no matter the job.
  • If you happen to work in one of several positions that require long stretches, such as pilots, truck drivers, and medical residents, ensure you get extra sleep before and after your shifts. Know where your edges are. Refusing to drive is better than being injured or injuring someone else.
  • Reach out to other parents for advice on getting more sleep. All parents struggle with this, and there are some children who just do not sleep. Hopefully you will find a solution that is healthy for you and your children. If you are one of the unlucky few, again reach out to friends and family for help. Many people are more than happy to come play with a baby while you take a nap.
  • Conversely, if you know someone who has a baby, offer to help with the baby or chores around the house so parents can get some much needed rest.
  • Turn the devices off an hour before going to bed. Cell phones, tablets, and computers are known to interfere with sleep cycles. Take some time to read or chat with your spouse or children.
  • Make time to get some kind of exercise during the day. You will get better sleep and feel better in general.

If you do find yourself in a situation where you have not had enough sleep, here are a few things you can do to be safer.

  • Drive with someone else in the car.
  • Stop and take a nap.
  • A caffeine boost will provide a brief respite. If you drink caffeine and then take a short nap, your caffeine boost will be more effective and last longer.
  • Get a Lyft or Uber home if you have worked a late shift and feel exhausted.

If you have been injured by someone who carelessly drove while drowsy, please contact us so we can help evaluate your case.

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