A new study by the non-profit American Automobile Association (which we all know as AAA or “Triple-A”) has revealed that drowsy driving is an even bigger problem in the United States than was originally thought. According to the study, almost 10% of all highway crashes are caused by drivers who were overly tired or otherwise sleep deprived. This is roughly eight times more than previous estimates! Definitely a cause for concern!
With something so preventable causing so much harm, we think it might be time to look at the problem in more detail. Not just in terms of what causes it, but also things we all can do to stop it. And, with 88% of all Americans owning cars
, this isn’t a problem that’s going away on its own. Just as we all need to get more sleep, we need to be more mindful of how we drive. Simply put, it’s even more important to get your best sleep each night.
Drowsy Driving in Detail
So what exactly is “drowsy driving,” beyond the obvious? It’s a specialized form of sleep deprivation, which is when you get less sleep than your body needs to feel awake and alert. The negative effects of sleep deprivation are extensive, so let’s start our exploration of the dangers of drowsy driving there.
Sleep Deprivation Costs You More Than Just Sleep
Here’s a fact: getting less than seven hours of sleep a night is unhealthy. The typically recommended 7-9 hours gives you the best sleep and you can manage with six. Less than five hours though? You’re sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation can lead to all kinds of mental and physical problems, including but not limited to:
With respect to driving specifically, sleep deprivation studies reveal a significant reduction in memory and attention. Memory, of course, allows us to remember where we’re going and where we’ve been. Attention allows us to keep our eyes on the road. When you mix lack of sleep and a person who is not paying attention to what’s ahead of them, anything could happen. Especially since sleep deprivation has lowered their response time to anything that pops up!
- Type-2 Diabetes
- Reduced ability to heal wounds
- Lower response time to stimuli
- Muscle cramps
- Quicker to anger
- Lack of focus or concentration
- Weaker immune system
- High blood pressure
- Low sex drive
- Heart disease risk
- Loss of equilibrium or balance
- More colds and cases of the flu
- 12% greater chance of early death
Sleep deprivation can also affect the amount of REM sleep you get. Ideally speaking, your body wants as much REM sleep as possible. REM (“rapid-eye-movement”) is the final phase of sleep, and it’s thought to provide many health benefits
, particularly to the brain. Constantly being interrupted in sleep gives you less REM, and so less deep sleep overall.
Not having the right amount of sleep can also lead to something called “microsleep.” This is when your body is so exhausted you just shut down temporarily for short periods of time. You won’t know that it’s happening, but it’s basically like blacking out for a little while. Not good while you’re driving! In extreme cases, microsleeping can also lead to paranoia and delusions. People with frequent microsleep start becoming confused as to when they’re asleep and when they’re awake. Scary!
The reason all this occurs is because your body uses sleep as a time to repair itself. It creates and stores new brain cells, cytokines (disease-fighting substances), and hormones while they’re not being used up. (You might even think of the dreams you have as movies shown to distract you while your body does its work!) Without this time to repair, your body has less of these cells and hormones to use. It may not produce enough of them if you don’t have enough sleep or the cells and hormones may be broken/incomplete. Long story short: sleep deprivation isn’t just costing you sleep, it’s costing you necessary bodily cells, proteins, and hormones too.
Defeat Drowsy Driving With These Simple Tips
So as we said earlier, drowsy driving is pervasive and dangerous - again eight times more so than previous federal estimates suggested. Sleep deprivation causes most of it, and people die from it all the time! How can we avoid it? Try this…
A short nap before a long road trip can do wonders for preventing drowsy driving. Getting a small amount of sleep before hitting the road may make up for any insomnia you experienced the night before. It brings you closer to the seven-hour ideal. Having “just woken up” from a nap may fool your body into thinking it’s fresh and ready to go, creating an effect similar to what happens if you nap too much during the day- it becomes really hard to get to sleep that night
(Of course, getting your best sleep on the right mattress before you drive is the best and most lasting solution. But we’ll get to that...)
Tweak Your Circadian or Biological Rhythm
A human body typically needs sleep once in a 24-hour span – this is what we call “the Circadian Rhythm.” Because of it, you will typically start to feel sleepy between 6 pm and midnight. Push too far beyond that and you will be sleep deprived and at risk for drowsy driving.
You can account for this in one of two ways: 1) do not begin a long journey between 6-12am, or 2) change your sleep times to create that “once in a day” cycle. This will be difficult if your body already has a rhythm based on getting to bed and waking up at certain times daily. Going to bed earlier and waking up later can adjust that, however. This is the way people who work nights or extremely early shifts get their best sleep. Before a long trip change your bedtimes and adjust that biological rhythm to avoid drowsy driving. It’s not easy, may take several days to get right, but it’s far better than falling asleep at the wheel.
Just Add Coffee
Not a solution by itself, but it does help. Strong coffee is best, but energy drinks or anything with a lot of sugar work too. As long as you don’t expect caffeine by itself to overcome insomnia effects or defeat sleep deprivation, it’s a good aid in keeping you awake when you need it. What’s better?
Take a Sleep Break
If you haven’t planned how to sleep well before making a long trip, don’t push it if you feel drowsy while driving. Take a break. Find a safe spot to stop along the highway and briefly nap. Again, never rely on coffee alone to keep you up while driving, because its effects won't last for too long. Instead, get some coffee when you’re feeling really sleepy, drink it up, but then stop and nap. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks take 30 minutes or so to enter your bloodstream. If you’re tired you’ll fall right asleep, but then the caffeine will wake you up after you’ve snoozed a bit. This will buy you another two or three hours of wakefulness to find a place to get proper rest.
Use the Buddy System
Another passenger – preferably one who’s gotten better sleep than you – can also save you from drowsy driving. They’ll see when you’re struggling to keep your eyes open or your head up. They’ll notice if you drift when you drive. Two heads, as they say, are better than one, and that’s definitely so when preventing drowsy driving.
If you’re both tired, drive in shifts. Once it becomes clear that you’ve had it, let your buddy take over for the next two hours while you sleep. Again, this works best if they’ve already been sleeping. From that point on, the two of you can take turns - one sleeps while the other drives. It may slow down your trip, but this is one situation where “better late than never” is literally true!
Leave Early and Don’t Rush
It’s common sense, but worth a reminder: If you need to be somewhere by a certain time, plan to leave early. If you fail to do that, do not try to make up for lost time by speeding if you’re drowsy! The last thing you need is for you to have a microsleep or worse, fall completely asleep at the wheel while you’re speeding. It’s just not worth it!
Watch Your Alcohol Intake
Besides being illegal while you’re driving, alcohol makes you sleepy. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t drink and drive, but pay attention to your consumption beforehand too. If there isn’t enough time for it to work through your system, it will make you drowsy. The more you drink, the worse it will get. Keep track of time and quantity if you end up drinking before making a long drive. Better yet, avoid it altogether before your drive if you can!
Know and Look for the Signs of Drowsiness
People often say they feel awake when they really aren’t. Though you may feel alert in the moment, being tired will change this when you hit the road. Miles and miles of long, repetitive highway can put you in a state of “highway hypnosis” without you realizing it. And that’s when you could easily fall asleep at the wheel.
According to experts, in highway hypnosis, your brain activity slows to something similar to when you’re asleep. Though you might’ve felt awake before driving, the boredom of staring down the redundant highway can cause microsleep or worse. To avoid this, be aware of the common signs of fatigue, and address them before or during your drive:
Get Your Best Sleep on a Premium Mattress
Finally, you can avoid all of the above by getting a good night’s sleep on a gel-infused memory foam mattress from lull.com. Lull’s affordable mattress makes it difficult not to get your best sleep! Its premium three-layer memory foam makes you feel like you sleep on a cloud. The motion transfer allows your partner to get in and out of bed while you keep on sleeping. And its gel polymer always keeps it at a cool 69 degrees, the scientifically proven ideal temperature for sleep. Drowsy driving doesn’t occur if you’re adequately rested. Why not make sure you get home safely every night?
With a high-quality mattress from Lull, the effects of insomnia won't be an issue on your next drive as you’ll be getting your best sleep. Get an online mattress from Lull and sleep well. You’ll thank us on your next trip!
- Trouble keeping your eyes open and focused
- Can’t keep your head up
- Excessive daydreaming or random irrelevant thoughts
- Constantly yawning and rubbing your eyes
- Tailgating or drifting in your lane
- Missing signs or exits
- Forgetting what you’ve passed / where you are