Drowsy, sleepy, fatigued—all terms that can be used to describe a sleep-deprived driver. A growing trend of not enough or poor sleep is putting an increasing number of compromised drivers on the road. Not only is lack of sleep dangerous for individual health it also poses a serious risk to the public at large. One way to put a halt to this growing but preventable problem is to recognize it as the public health crisis that it is.
A Nation Without Sleep
Sleep is not a luxury, yet for many people sleeping for a full seven to nine hours is a dream that only happens on weekends. In fact, a 2018 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that Americans put fitness and nutrition, work, and hobbies above sleep in importance. Yet, each of those could benefit and improve if sleep were higher on that list.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that anywhere from 28 to 44 percent of adults get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep. The human brain is not designed to function without rest. During sleep, the brain cleanses itself of toxic proteins and amino acids that clog communication pathways. The brain also releases adenosine, which slows down the ability to think in an attempt to put the brain in a sleep state.
What’s Happening on the Highway?
There’s a true health crisis when a sleep-deprived brain is in control of a moving vehicle. A 2001 study showed that lack of sleep rivaled intoxication in its ability to impair driving. Drivers showed a similar inability to regulate speed and maintain vehicle road position. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 795 people were killed in drowsy driving accidents in 2017. That number doesn’t fully encompass the number of lives affected.
The NHTSA puts the number of police-reported accidents that involve drowsy drivers at 91,000. The same incidents led to 50,000 injuries. The numbers could be higher as it’s difficult to identify which accidents involve drowsy drivers. They typically happen in the early morning, late at night, and mid-afternoon with single drivers traveling at a high rate of speed with no evidence of braking once the vehicle left the road. However, drowsy drivers also miss turns, lose track of time, and show poor reflexes, which can cause accidents that fall outside the normal identifiers.
Changes Start at Home
Drowsy driving is preventable; it’s a crisis that can be averted. The majority of adults could get the rest they need by:
1. Establishing a Consistent Nightly Routine: A nightly schedule that includes a relaxing bedtime routine and regular bedtime allows the body to adjust and improve sleep quality.
2.Turning Off Electronics Early: The light from electronics can suppress sleep hormones. Turning them off two to three hours before bedtime gives the brain a chance to respond to circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock.
3.Increasing Time Outside: Exposure to sunlight helps to set the circadian rhythms. By increasing time outside, the brain naturally suppresses sleep hormones during the day but releases them in increasing amounts as it gets dark.
4.Getting Sleep Help: Recognizing the crisis also sheds light on issues that could be interfering with sleep beyond poor sleep habits. Stress, changing eyesight, and nutritional imbalances can all be at work too. Treatments like light therapy, stress management training, and nutritional supplements can help with sleep issues but only if they’re given the attention they need. Of course, investing in better mattresses and creating a relaxing environment to sleep in can be beneficial as well.
A crisis is defined as a time of intense difficulty or danger. Sleep deprivation is the quiet crisis that’s threatening people on roadways, in the workplace, and in their personal relationships. Recognizing it for what it is creates an opportunity for change. Because the truth is, even one good night’s rest can prevent a drowsy driving accident.