Poor decision-making ability, slowed reactions times, and muddled thinking are classic signs of those who drive under the influence of alcohol. Most people don’t realize that they’re also signs of drowsy driving. Close to 35 percent of adults in the United States get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night. That puts a lot of fatigued drivers on the road. Drowsy driving related accidents come at a high price both in dollars and lives.
What Happens When You Drive While Drowsy
Sleep is often viewed as negotiable. Many people sacrifice it in favor of doing more work, watching TV, or simply fall victim to high-stress levels. Rest needs to move up on the priority lists because it’s needed for your body to function at its best. Sleep deprivation hits your body hard when driving. It can show up as:
Short-Term Memory Loss: Fatigued drivers often report forgetting the last few miles they’ve driven. The short-term memory starts to fade out as the brain shifts into sleep mode.
Delayed Reaction Times: The brain can’t keep up with demand when it hasn’t had time to rest. The quick thinking often needed for safe driving just isn’t possible when you’re tired.
Trouble Processing Information: Tracking speed, other drivers, passengers, and following traffic laws requires processing a lot of information at once. When you’re tired, making sense of that information and basing decisions off of it gets difficult.
Changes in Mood: As the amount of sleep you get goes down, your moods start to become less stable. Road rage and other forms of aggression become common.
These effects make drowsy driving a dangerous practice that results in roughly 328,000 fatigue-related crashes nationwide each year. Life-changing injuries to the brain, back, and neck leave many accident victims scrambling to put their lives back together.
High Cost and Lost Wages
Car accidents come with a high price that can continue for years. Most people immediately think of the medical costs. It’s not uncommon for victims to need medication and specialized medical attention for years after the accident. There’s also the cost of the emergency services provided by first responders as well as insurance fees.
Some accident victims find themselves unable to go back to work or are so traumatized that the number of hours or kind of work they can do changes. Those lost wages costs families thousands of dollars each year. In total, the yearly cost of car accidents related to drowsy driving reaches nearly $109 billion.
How to Get Better Sleep
Turn Off Screens The bright light from televisions, laptops, iPads, and smartphones tricks the brain into thinking it’s time to be awake. Try shutting off screens at least an hour before bedtime, so your brain isn’t getting mixed signals.
Bedroom Conditions A comfortable mattress that doesn’t leave you with aches and pains is a good place to start. Keep your room a cool 60-68 degrees at night. Try to block out as much noise and light as possible to give your body the best possible conditions for restful sleep. Blackout curtains and a white noise machine may help.
Be Consistent Go to bed at the same time every night. Your body releases hormones that help you feel sleepy. With a consistent bedtime, your body will start the process at the same time every day. Following along those same lines, wake up at a regular time every morning. It might be tempting to sleep in on weekends, but if you can keep your sleep schedule consistent, you’re setting yourself up for a better night’s sleep.
About the author: Ben DiMaggio is a researcher for the sleep science and health organization Tuck.com. 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.
Image copyright free, Pixabay