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Short on Sleep? You Might Be Putting Others at Risk…

What type of driver scares you the most? For many people, it is the teenager distracted by their cell phone who is most terrifying. For others, the thought of a drunk driver behind the wheel is the stuff of nightmares

However, according to a new report from AAA, it might be time to rethink what scares us on our roadways. The report said that drowsy drivers are much more dangerous than we thought, shedding light on the incredible impact a lack of sleep has on our driving skills.

It isn’t just drivers on the verge of nodding off that should concern us. People who get an hour or two less than the seven recommended hours of shuteye might double their chance of being involved in a vehicle accident. Driving on just four or five hours of sleep in one night puts a driver at roughly the same risk as a driver who is legally drunk.

The report is alarming; it raises questions that impact all of us. Not only do we share the roads with people who get less than the suggested number of hours of nightly sleep, but many of us also probably fall into that category ourselves.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around one-third of American adults reported getting six or fewer hours of sleep every night. Only one-third of high schoolers reported getting the eight hours of sleep recommended by the CDC.

Common Sleep-Related Problems

A lack of sleep affects us in several ways:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Health problems, such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity
  • Unintentional nodding off or falling asleep.

All these things can – and do – impact our ability to drive. The Department of Transportation estimates that drowsy driving causes 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries every year. The report from AAA might be an indication that those numbers are even higher.

How to Stay Alert Behind the Wheel

To avoid the risk of causing a drowsy driving crash, we should consider these tips to improve our sleep and our awareness behind the wheel.

  • Get better sleep by sticking to a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Be mindful of things that disrupt sleep, such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and large meals.
  • Avoid driving during times when you would normally be asleep.
  • Take a break from driving every 100 miles or every two hours.
  • Avoid driving after taking medications that impair driving or cause drowsiness.
  • Don’t eat large, heavy meals before long drives.

Our ability to focus while driving is directly related to the amount of sleep we get every night. This is an important lesson for all drivers. A good night’s rest might be the first sacrifice of a busy schedule, but it probably shouldn’t be. As the AAA report makes clear, it is not just our own health that is affected by sleep deprivation — it’s also that of everyone who shares the road with a drowsy driver.