Every year, nearly 30,000 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents. In the state of Texas alone, the cost of vehicle accidents can reach well over $4 million per year. In a survey taken in 2010, 4.2 percent of 147,076 respondents reported falling asleep behind the wheel at least once in the last 30 days. While not all drowsy driving incidents lead to an accident, drowsy driving can impair your driving abilities much like alcohol.
It’s difficult to link drowsy driving to vehicle accidents because some drivers won’t admit that they fell asleep at the wheel while others may not realize that fatigue led to distraction or a lapse in judgment. Overall, 2.5 percent of fatal accidents can be directly linked to drowsy driving. It’s possible there is a higher percentage of accidents due to tiredness.
THE DRIVER’S BRAIN AND SLEEP DEPRIVATION
The average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep to be fully alert. Getting less than seven hours of sleep, even by one hour, puts you at greater risk for vehicle accidents. Accidents become more likely as the amount of sleep goes down. With less than four hours of sleep, the accident rate is 11.5 times higher than average.
Here’s why–sleep deprivation slows down the brain and changes decision-making abilities. Neurons in the brain start to slow down as the body gets tired.That leads to slowed reaction times, changes in mood, and decision-making abilities.
Safe driving requires making split-second decisions that the brain can’t make without adequate rest. Even a moderate change in sleep, such as one hour less than normal, reduces driving ability. It can lead to wandering in and out of the traffic lane, missing exits and turns, and aggressive mood swings.
DROWSY DRIVING PREVENTION
While you can’t control other drivers and their decisions, you can make responsible driving choices for yourself. Drowsy driving, for the most part, is preventable. It starts with getting a good night’s rest.
Check your mattress. A lumpy, sagging mattress may be causing you to wake during the night. The bed should support your preferred sleep position and leave you feeling refreshed in the morning. Try to keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet at night for optimal sleep conditions.
If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, try developing good sleep habits like:
- A Consistent Bedtime: A consistent bedtime not only gives the best chance of getting a full seven hours of sleep but also helps your body follow a regular schedule.
- A Bedtime Routine: Every activity in the routine should relax and calm your mind and body. Meditation, yoga, a warm bath, or reading a book are all good ways to wind down after a stressful day. Perform the routine in the same order at the same time every day to help trigger the release of sleep hormones.
- Turning Off Screens: Don’t be tempted to watch TV or check your social media accounts before bed. The bright blue light from some electronics suppresses the release of melatonin, causing your body to stay awake longer. Turn screens off about an hour before bedtime.
If you find yourself getting drowsy while driving, make a change. Ideally, you should switch drivers. If you can’t, naps and coffee are a viable solution. When you just can’t keep your eyes open, pull over in a safe place and take a short 15-45 minute nap to help counteract the effects of sleep deprivation.