Everyone knows the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol, but many people aren’t aware of risks of drowsy driving. Considering that nearly 328,000 car accidents can be linked to drowsy driving each year, it’s time to take a closer look at this growing problem and take action.
The Sleep-Deprived Brain
When the heavy blinks and frequent yawns start, most people push through the fatigue in favor of getting to their destination on time. As you begin to understand what happens to your brain when you’re tired, you might reconsider.
Sleep is a necessary biological function that the body cannot do without. The brain reacts by slowing down the messages it sends. Individual neurons that send the message to interpret information and cause the body to react and move in response slow down in an attempt to bring the body to a resting state.
When driving, these effects of this sleep deprivation may look like:
Drifting in and out of the traffic lane
Missing turns or exits
Forgetting the last few miles driven (due to short-term memory loss)
Mood swings, including increased aggression
Slow reaction times
Lack of reasoning skills
Sleep deprivation removes the ability to make the split-second decisions needed to prevent accidents. The brain tries to keep up, but without enough sleep, it falls behind enough to open the door to potential accidents.
Costs That Are Too High
The effects of drowsy driving cannot be ignored considering the serious nature of the kinds of injuries sustained during car accidents. Car accidents easily strain the ligaments and muscles in the neck and back.The force of the accident is often absorbed by the spine causing injuries like whiplash, herniated disks, and compression fractures. Even low-speed accidents can cause life-altering injuries.
Accidents and injuries bring an incredible $109 billion in societal costs. When you take into account the medical and insurance bills, first responder expenses, wages lost over the lifetime of the injured, and potential loss of life, the costs are simply too high.
Making a Change
Many drowsy driving accidents could be avoided by taking action while driving and getting better sleep. If you find yourself nodding off on the road:
Pull over in a safe area like a parking lot or rest area and take a short 15-30 minute nap.
Turn on upbeat music to wake your senses.
Start chewing gum. The combination of your jaw muscles moving and the flavors of the gum can give you an awakening jolt.
Switch drivers and take a nap in the passenger seat.
You can prevent drowsy driving before it starts by getting a full seven to eight hours of sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep:
Check Your Mattress: A lumpy mattress or one that’s too hard or soft can keep you tossing and turning through the night.
Develop a Bedtime Routine: A warm bath, reading a book, or gentle meditation can help your brain shut down for the day by helping establish healthy circadian rhythms.
Cutback on Screen Time: The light from televisions, e-readers, and smartphones can be enough to send your brain the ‘awake’ signal. Try to shut things down an hour before bedtime to allow your brain to adjust.
Eat Right: Avoid stimulants like caffeine for at least four hours before bed. Add sleep-inducing foods to your diet like fish, chickpeas, and bananas which promote the making of melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy.