Getting behind the wheel when drowsy may seem innocent, but it can have tragic consequences. Every year nearly 6,000 fatal accidents are linked to drowsy driving. Drowsy driving compromises reaction times and decision-making abilities. To prevent drowsy driving there needs to be a plan in case a driver finds himself nodding off along with a commitment to developing better sleep habits.
What Happens to the Brain During Sleep Deprivation?
Sleep deprivation prevents the brain from performing important daily functions. During sleep, the brain cleanses itself of waste while also pruning unneeded connections and strengthening those that will be used more often. Without adequate rest, these important functions may be interrupted, resulting in:
- Slowed reaction times
- Impaired reasoning skills
- Decreased problem-solving abilities
- Short-term memory loss
- Mood changes, particularly an increase in aggression
On the road, these changes can be seen when drivers:
- drift out of their traffic lane
- miss exits or turns on a well-known route
- Forget the last few miles driven
With less than five hours of sleep, the impairment drivers experience is comparable to driving while intoxicated. At this level of sleep deprivation, drivers have a problem regulating their speed while the accuracy of their responses changes drastically in comparison to a well-rested driver.
What Do I Do if I’m on the Road and I’m Getting Sleepy?
One in twenty-five adults reports driving while drowsy in the last thirty days. Even those who take precautions to prevent fatigued driving may once in a while find themselves fighting sleep while on the road. Safety has to be the number one concern. In these cases where drivers know they’re getting sleepy, they can:
- Pull over in a safe area to take a short 15-30 minute nap
- Change drivers
- Roll down the window
- Turn on loud, upbeat music
- Chew gum
How do I Prevent Drowsy Driving in the First Place?
The best way to prevent drowsy driving is to get more sleep. Developing good sleep hygiene, which are all the habits that affect the quantity and quality of sleep, can help many people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Before developing new habits, the sleep environment needs to be effective. The bedroom should be dark, quiet, and comfortably cool, which is usually somewhere between 60-68 degrees. The mattress should be supportive and prevent any aches or pains during the night or in the morning.
Along with the right environment are the habits that build better sleep:
- Consistent Bed and Wake Time: The body and brain thrive off routine. Keeping a regular schedule supports a healthy sleep-wake cycle wherein the brain releases sleep hormones at the same time every day.
- Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine works well for those who have a hard time winding down at the end of the day. The routine should include relaxing activities performed in the same order and at the same time each night. Activities could include reading a book (not on an e-reader or smartphone, which can cause wakefulness), drinking a warm cup of milk, mindfulness meditation, or gentle yoga.
- Eat Smart and Healthy: Getting good sleep requires proper nutrition, but it also requires eating at the right times. Avoid heavy, high-fat foods close to bedtime. Stimulants and alcohol should be avoided for four hours before bed. If hunger pains cause wakefulness, a sleep-promoting snack like cheese, yogurt, banana, or almonds can calm the stomach and stimulate the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding car wreck claims. Feel free to send comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org of Apolinsky & Associates, LLC, or call (404) 377-9191.
This article was contributed by Tuck.com, a community devoted to providing sleep health guides and unbiased mattress reviews.