The following is a guest blog provided by TUCK Sleep Foundation, a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.
Driving while drowsy is dangerous. Almost as dangerous as driving drunk.
“The broader community's best estimate of drowsy-driving crashes is that 7 percent of all crashes and 16.5 percent of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver,” the USDOT wrote in “Asleep at the Wheel” in 2017. “This estimate suggests that approximately 6,000 people died in drowsy-driving-related motor vehicle crashes across the United States in .”
In that same publication, it states that 29.4 percent of drivers reported "having driven when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open” in the 30 days prior. In that same time frame, 19.8 percent of drivers reported having done so more than once, and 2.4 percent reported having done this fairly often.
Analysis of research from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation study showed that 34 percent of lane-drifting crashes involve drivers who were incapacitated. Half of those incapacitations were attributed to sleeping, the other half to illness or drug or alcohol influence.
So, here are some tips and tricks to help you to stay safe and wake yourself up as much as possible before long drives.
Get Better Sleep
This first one is probably a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but a necessary one. It's recommended that adults get 8 hours of sleep a night, but 35 percent of Americans don't get that on a regular basis. Developing better sleep habits is a must for those who want to stop dozing off at the wheel.
There are plenty of ways that an individual can work on that, whether it's from setting a bedtime routine, keeping blue light out of their nightly routine, getting the right mattress for their body, or through taking short naps during the day.
Keep Track of Medications
For those who take medicines that may cause drowsiness, aim to take those medicines after typical driving times like your commute to and from work, especially those who work in the early morning or late at night. That is when most accidents occur due to drowsiness. Avoid that glass of wine with dinner, as that can make you feel drowsier and interact with medications in a nasty way.
For those that suffer from sleep apnea, using the CPAP machine can help sufferers to get deeper sleep, and avoid the severe daytime drowsiness that often accompanies it.
Prepare for Long Trips
Drink something caffeinated before you start a long drive, and have a pick-me-up ready as needed. If caffeine isn't your speed, try for the NASA-approved 26-minute nap.
There's some debate as to which is better, caffeine or a nap, but that tends to depend on the age of the driver. In the study cited, younger folks tended to nap better, whereas middle-aged people were more likely to see more of an effect from a cup of coffee or an energy drink. If there's time, drinking a cup of coffee and then napping can help maximize the effects of both, and make drivers feel more energized.
For those who can't do either, get a buddy in the car to help keep focused and to share the driving.