Drowsy Driving Both Dangerous and a Poor Sleep Indicator

Just this past week, the AAA Foundation for Public Safety released results of a drowsy driving study that showed 21 percent of highway fatalities are due to sleep-deprived drivers. This is a much higher figure than the one that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses, which is 2.5 percent of all fatalities.

“However, the official government statistics are widely regarded as a substantial underestimates of the true magnitude of the problem,” says the AAA report. “This study estimates that as many as 6% of all crashes in which a passenger vehicle is towed from the scene, 7% of crashes that result in any injuries, 13% of crashes that result in severe injuries requiring hospitalization, and 21% of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver.”

The AAA study covered the years from 2009 to 2013, and the report concluded: “If these proportions are applied to all reported crashes nationwide, results suggest that an average of 328,000 crashes annually, including 109,000 crashes that result in injuries and 6,400 fatal crashes, involve a drowsy driver.”

The study confirms that poor sleep has consequences, not always fatal but always in reduced performance and cognition, as our last posting showed in another study.

If you’re consistently sluggish or fatigued in the daytime and have problems concentrating and staying focused (do those meetings at work find you fighting off a desire to doze off?), then you need to evaluate your sleep hygiene — and your sleep itself. If you consistently snore, that could be an indication of a sleep disorder, or at least a sleep condition that warrants treatment.

The first step is to be honest with yourself. Do you show symptoms of sleep deprivation (daily fatigue, difficulty concentrating and focusing and, in general, getting going)? If so, the next step is to do a self-evaluation to see if you’re your own worst enemy when it comes to sleep. This evaluation regards your sleep hygiene, or lack thereof. There are plenty of posts in this blog about sleep hygiene. Please refer to those.

If you conclude that your sleep hygiene is good (if not perhaps perfect, which could be hard in our day and age), then it’s no doubt time to seek professional help. Even those with sleep apnea can find treatments that improve if not resolve the disorder entirely.

But the first step is always owning up to the fact that you’re not sleeping as nature meant you to. Don’t shrug off daytime fatigue and nighttime sleep issues as “normal.” They don’t have to be, and in fact shouldn’t be.

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