Whatever the cause of your nighttime issues, if you are sleep deprived in the day and drive, you could fall asleep suddenly — even if just for three or four seconds — and end up in an accident. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS), one in six deadly vehicle crashes is the result of drowsy driving.
And the AAAFTS adds, half of the drivers involved in falling-asleep accidents say they were either not at all sleepy or just somewhat sleepy before drifting off into harm’s way.
“When you skimp on sleep, over time you start losing self-awareness,” explains Meeta Singh, MD, a sleep specialist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Driving drift-offs of three or four seconds are defined as “microsleep” resulting from sleep deprivation. In all, sleep deprivation causes lots of waking-hour problems, including impaired vision, reduced reaction times, poorer judgment and slower brain processing speeds, according to Marc Schlossberg, MD, director of the National Rehabilitation Hospital Sleep Lab in Washington, D.C.
The way to prevent microsleep accidents, of course, is to get a consistent good night’s sleep, and if for some reason you have to stay awake longer than normal, you might want to carpool, take public transportation or just stay home. A landmark Australian study found that staying awake for 20 or more hours is the equivalent of being drunk with an 0.8 percent level of alcohol in the blood.
To fall and stay asleep at night, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) offers these tips:
- Use your bed only for sleep and sex
- Avoid daytime napping, unless you need a short nap to stay alert while driving
- Get rid of TVs and computers in the bedroom
- Go to bed and arise at the same times every day, including weekends
- Exercise in the late afternoon and get plenty of sunshine
- Avoid alcohol and smoking
- Don’t drink caffeinated beverages or consume heavy meals within three hours of bedtime
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet
These are solid, practical tips that everyone should practice, but if you follow them to the T and still have trouble sleeping, it’s probably time to consult with a sleep professional. There’s no reason to shortchange your daytimes because of a sleep disorder, so seek help immediately if your best efforts can’t summon the sandman sufficiently.