Asleep at the Wheel: A Wake-up Call for Drowsy Drivers

It’s a common complaint in the modern world; most of us, overextended at trying to “do it all” and “have it all,” are operating on less than the optimal amount of sleep. With full-time work, domestic duties, a few minutes of exercise, and picking up the kids from school, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

So where do we get the precious extra hours we need to accommodate our busy schedules?  That’s right—from the night—time that should be reserved for seven to eight hours of sleep. Our nightly appointment for sleep should be at least as binding as the commitments we make to everything and everyone else in life.  Sleep is a biological requirement we all need.

Sleep is a critical factor in highway safety too. As Americans become more sleep-deprived, the number of crashes on our roadways involving drowsy drivers is increasing. Fatigue contributes to more than 100,000 crashes each year.  The result is often fatal for sleeping drivers and those in the vehicle they hit.

Most people who drive when sleepy aren’t aware of it.  Many drivers may experience ‘highway hypnosis’ and realize they’ve been driving along in a zoned-out state. The lucky ones can rouse themselves, and the smart ones will pull over and rest for 20 minutes, or even better, for the night. Most people can’t control their level of sleepiness and can’t anticipate that they’re about to fall asleep. Their dreams can become a nightmare in an instant.

Fatigue slows your reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment (just as alcohol or drugs) anSleepy 1d can lead to falling asleep at the wheel.  Taking over-the-counter or prescription medications or drinking alcohol, on top of being fatigued, will seriously compound an already dangerous situation.

The answer is simple: don’t hit the highway until you hit the hay for the right amount of time, every night. Here are some tips to help you get better sleep:

  • Adjust your thermostat before bed. A room that is too hot or cold can disturb sleep.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule even on your days off, holidays or when traveling.
  • Eat well and establish a regular exercise routine.
  • Avoid caffeine several hours before bedtime. Its stimulating effects will peak two to four hours later and may linger for several hours more.
  • Avoid alcohol before going to sleep. It may initially make you fall asleep faster, but it can make it much harder to stay asleep.
  • Know the effects of medications. Some can increase sleepiness and make it dangerous to drive; others can act as stimulants and cause sleeping difficulties.
  • Develop a relaxing sleep ritual such as taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music or reading until you feel sleepy.
  • Try not to make bedtime the time to solve the day’s problems. Make a list of things that concern you so you don’t worry about them when you are trying to sleep.

Fatigue is cumulative; cutting an hour of sleep here and there can add up to exhaustion sooner than you think, and the only prescription is getting regular good sleep. Think of the benefits in terms of improved health, quality of life and performance. You’ll look, feel, work and play better. And you’ll keep yourself, your loved ones and your fellow travelers safe on the road.