Don't Drowse and Drive
Thousands of crashes occur each year due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Learn the signs so that you know when you are getting drowsy, what puts you at risk for drowsy driving, and what to do to stay alert.
What Are the Signs of Sleepiness?
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety provides some warning sign to help you identify when you are getting too tired to drive. If you begin to experience any of these, it is time to stop driving and get some sleep:
- Trouble keeping your eyes open and focused
- Nod and can't keep your head up
- Daydream or have wandering, disconnected thoughts
- Yawn a lot or need to rub your eyes
- Find yourself drifting out of your lane or tailgating
- Miss road signs or drive past your turn
- Feel irritable, restless, and impatient
- Drift off the road and hit the rumble strip on the highway
Are You at Risk?
To determine if you are at an increased risk for a sleep-related traffic accident, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety asks the following questions:
- Are you male, aged 26 years or younger?
- Have you been awake for 20 hours or more?
- Have you had six hours of sleep or less in the last 24 hours?
- Do you often drive between midnight and 6 am?
- Do you frequently feel drowsy while you are driving?
- Do you work the night shift?
- Are you a long-haul truck driver?
- Are you a business traveler who spends a lot of time on the road and suffers from jet lag?
- Do you work more than one job?
- Do you have undiagnosed ]]>sleep apnea]]>?
In addition, analysis of sleepy driver crashes shows that having taken ]]>sleeping medication]]> on a previous night was associated with subsequent crash. If you spend time on the road, don’t use sleeping medications that could produce rebound sleepiness the next day.
What Can You Do?
When you are sitting for long periods of time, it is only natural for your body to go into rest mode. Simple exercises can help "wake up" your joints and increase circulation to your limbs:
- Roll your shoulders backward and then forward 10 times.
- Shake out your hands one at a time for a count of five. Do this twice for each hand.
- Stretch out your neck and legs when it is safe to do so.
- Sit up straight in your seat. Slumping in your chair restricts lung capacity, thereby reducing oxygen to the brain and increasing that sleepy feeling.
- If your eyes feel strained and dry, try artificial drops to refresh them.
Note: If you are relying on coffee to keep you awake, it is time to pull over and call it a night. The best strategy is to take a break from being behind the wheel.
If your circumstances require driving when fatigued, you may wish to talk to your doctor about whether a prescription drug could offer benefit. Also, if you suspect you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about your symptoms so you can get proper treatment.
In the meantime, it is important to remember that driving when sleepy may be as dangerous as drunk driving—for you and for others on the road.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
The National Sleep Foundation
The Canadian Sleep Society (CSS)
Canada's Safety Council
Alvarez FJ, Fiero I, Gomez-Talagon FT, et al. Patients treated with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and fitness to drive assessment in clinical practice in Spain at the medical traffic centers. Traffic Inj Preven. 2008;9:168-172.
Changing behaviors to prevent drowsy driving and promote traffic safety: review of proven, promising, and unproven techniques. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety website. Available at: http://www.aaafoundation.org/resources/index.cfm?button=drowsy. Published August 1998. Accessed July 29, 2008.
Czeisler CA. Walsh JK, Roth T, et al. Modafinil for excessive sleepiness associated with shift-work sleep disorder. N Engl J Med. 2005;353:476-486
Facts and stats. DrowsyDriving.org website. Available at: http://drowsydriving.org/. Accessed July 28, 2008.
Fact sheet. DrowsyDriving.org website. Available at: http://www.drowsydriving.org/atf/cf/%7B120BADF0-669E-46D0-B46B-768D410B040E%7D/DDPW%20FACT%20SHEET%20.pdf. Published 2007. Accessed July 28, 2008.
Stutts JC, Wilkins JW, Scott Osberg J, Vaughn BV. Driver risk factors for sleep-related crashes. Accid Anal Prev. 2003;35:321-331.
Wake up and get some sleep. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website. Available at: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/drowsy_driving1/human/drows_driving/index.html. Accessed July 28, 2008.
Last reviewed June 2010 by ]]>Brian Randall, MD]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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