Drowsy Driving – Importance of Driving When Alert

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 8:31 AM

Drowsy-DrivingYou are getting sleepy, very sleepy. All hypnosis aside, hopefully when your eyelids get heavy, you yawn uncontrollably and your head begins to nod up and down, you are not behind the wheel of a car.

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll, a surprising 60 percent of Americans have felt sleepy and drowsy when driving. The reasons are many: you’ve had a long day at work, you’re powering through exits on a road trip to make it to your final destination faster or you’re driving in the evening. No matter what the reason, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence,and puts both you and others at serious risk.

Neil Freedman, MD, Sleep Medicine specialist at NorthShore, offers his insights on how to stay alert at the wheel and avoid injury:

  • Know the risks for drowsy driving. While everyone is at risk for driving while sleepy due to sleep deprivation, there are certain risk factors and groups of individuals who are at increased risk for sleep-related accidents. Accidents related to drowsy driving are more common in younger individuals (teens and early 20’s); those with untreated sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea; individuals with medical disorders that result in sleep disruption such as chronic pain syndromes, congestive heart failure and COPD; those taking medications that may result in, or enhance the effects of, sleepiness (antihistamines, certain types of pain medications and some classes of antidepressants); and those employed in certain occupations that lead to sleep loss such as shift workers.

    Individuals should also avoid driving in the late evening and in the early morning hours, as this is the time period when our circadian clocks increase our drive for sleep.

  • Know the signs of sleepiness. All individuals who get into automobile accidents due to sleep loss or excessive sleepiness have symptoms long before their accident occurs. It is important to recognize the signs of excessive sleepiness and take action to avoid sleep-related accidents. Common symptoms that are associated with drowsy driving include:
       -   Yawning
       -   Difficulty keeping your eyes open
       -   Difficulty remembering where you have been driving for the last several
           minutes
       -   Ending up too close to the car in front of you
       -   Missing road signs and driving past your turn or exit
       -   Any drifting such as into other lanes, onto the rumble strip or shoulder
           on the side of the road

If you exhibit any of these symptoms while driving or know that you are too tired to drive prior to getting into the car, you should either not get behind the wheel, or pull over to the side of the road or to a rest stop.

  • Prevent sleep-related accidents prior to driving. In addition to pulling over and not driving when you are obviously tired, recommendations to prevent sleepiness-related accidents include:
       -   Get a full night of sleep prior to driving.
       -   Avoid driving late at night or in the early morning hours.
       -   Share the driving with someone else on a long trip.
       -   Avoid sedating medications prior to and while driving.
       -   Pull over and take a nap when you are too tired.
       -   Use caffeine for short-term improvement in alertness. (Importantly,
           caffeine only improves alertness temporarily and is not a substitute for
           adequate amounts of sleep.)

Have you ever been too sleepy to be driving? What do you do to stay alert behind the wheel?

× Alternate Text