Is drowsy driving the new drink driving?


Is drowsy driving the new drink driving?

Sleep Deprivation and Driving

The importance of getting the correct amount of sleep is a timeless topic. Most people are familiar with the affect that a lack of sleep can have on the body and the mind. However, one of the more rarely talked about aspects of sleep deprivation is the affects that it can have when one is operating a vehicle. As with alcohol related accidents, falling asleep while driving has presented itself to be a serious epidemic. The most important thing we can do to remedy this it to educate ourselves of both its causes and its devastating and irreversible consequences.


Sleep Deprivation Doubles The Odds Of Fatalities

The importance of getting enough rest takes on a whole new meaning when we consider our driving habits. Driving requires that an individual be alert and ready to quickly respond at any point in time. It requires that you are able to use both defensive an offensive skills, sometimes even simultaneously. These tasks can be next to impossible if one has not gotten the proper amount of sleep before getting behind the wheel. It's hard to expect the unexpected when your brain function is low due to your lack of energy. In some cases, how well rested you are can be the difference between life or death.

So in what ways exactly has the lack of sleep affected road safety? Well, according to statistics, driver fatigue is responsible for over 20% of all reported traffic accidents. In fact, it is believed that accidents that happen as a result of sleep deprivation are twice as likely to lead to fatalities when compared to other accidents. In these particular cases, the drivers have often been arrested and sentenced to jail for failing to control their vehicle. In other scenarios, cases have been taken to court by way of lawsuits filed by the victims' families. Sleep deprivation not only dulls our senses and impacts our ability to react quickly, but if enough of our energy has been depleted we are also likely to fall asleep suddenly and in a way that is beyond our control. Most traffic accidents have one common cause involved – sleep deprived individuals who were micro sleeping.

What Is Micro Sleeping?
You've just come home from a long day's work and are in the middle of watching you favourite television show or reading the book that you've been trying to catch up on. The next thing you know, the show has gone to an ad break or your book is sliding out of your hand because you nodded off for a few seconds without realising it. This is what is described as micro sleeping, the loss of consciousness that can last from 2 to 30 seconds. When you are overly tired or have forced yourself to stay awake, you brain sneaks in small naps in order to supply your body with more energy. Though we would ordinarily not think much of this behaviour, it can be intrusive, to say the very least, when driving.

This may seem like something that would be a rare occurrence, but many drivers have admitted to their micro sleeping while behind the wheel of a vehicle. In a study done in the UK, it was discovered that 49% of drivers had operated their vehicle even though they knew they were sleep deprived. At least 31% admitted to having moments where they nodded off while they were driving.

Micro sleeps are said to increase in danger as your stopping distances increase.  The speed at which you are driving also helps to determine how detrimental your crash could be in the case of an accident. What adds to your likelihood of micro sleeping is your environment. A lot of people can be easily hypnotized by their surroundings.

Driving Encourages Drowsiness
In a study conducted by YouGov, it was discovered that 60% of drivers feel more happy and relaxed when they are driving alone. In fact, these respondents said that when they are on the road they feel they can have some "me time", in which they are able to clear their thoughts or even simply enjoy listening to the radio. While these may be great conditions for people who have had a good night's rest, these conditions can be detrimental to individuals who are sleep deprived.

The car is not the first place most people think about when they think of rest. If we take a closer look at the average driving conditions, we can see that this environment is perfect for lulling the already drowsy or tired driver to sleep. Vehicles usually have comfortable seating, repetitive and monotonous visual stimulation as well as relaxing temperatures. Also, diving requires very little physical exertion, so in terms of physical activity a nodding driver is given very little incentive to force him or her to stay awake.

People who suffer from sleep deprivation are more at risk during certain times of the day. Early in the morning and right after lunch time is when you are most likely to experience the greatest level of fatigue. Also, people who work in shifts and those who have long hours, which require them to work at night, can increase their risk of falling asleep and having an accident by nearly 6 times the average amount.

Driving While Drowsy Is Equivalent To Driving While Drunk
Driving While Drowsy Is Equivalent To Driving While Drunk
Drunk drivers have developed a reputation for being oblivious to others who are on the road. This is because when intoxicated an individual has very little control over his or her faculties. They experience impairment of vision, difficulty with judging perception and multitasking, have a lack of concentration and are often overconfident in their abilities which leads to risk taking. However, one of the biggest factors that these individuals struggle with is their reaction time. Those who drive while sleep deprived are often compared to those who drive under the influence of alcohol.

In fact, after only one night of sleep deprivation, driving performance is almost identical to that of a driver who is heavily intoxicated. After 17 hours awake, the sleep deprived individual's driving ability would equate to a blood alcohol level of .05g/100 ml ^2. As you can see, there is a stark difference between the reaction time of a well-rested person and that of someone who is particularly fatigued.

Caffeine Is No Cure
Coffee has become an integral part of people's lives. Its addictive qualities have made its drinkers completely dependent on it. Some even insist that their day cannot start without it. But there is more to this beverage than it's taste. It's known for its ability to make you less groggy and sluggish.

It has especially become endeared to those who are regularly sleep deprived. Caffeine's main function is to block off adenosine, which is a compound that induces sleep. This neurotransmitter can be found in your body throughout the day and is at its peak before you go to bed. Nighttime adenosine levels are usually low and the caffeine acts as somewhat of an antagonist.

So coffee and other caffeinated products can be ideal for those who want to remain alert and active. However, what most people fail to realise is that if you are sleep deprived, caffeine can only add to your problems. These types of products may initially make you more alert and give you a surge energy, but in the end it will only lead to your feeling even more tired or fatigued than you started.  Caffeine can increase your adrenaline levels but when taken in excess can completely burn them out. Though it may initially improve your mood, high doses ultimately lead to high stress levels. Research has even shown that after taking 400 mg of caffeine, the accuracy and speed of problem solving are actually impaired. So you have to ask yourself if the temporary boosts are worth it.

The Key Takeaways:
It's essential that you get the correct amount of sleep. This is especially true when it comes to operating your vehicle, because the odds of a traffic related death are doubles when you are sleep deficient. When you are not properly rested, it becomes very easy to nod off because your brain starts to shut down if it is not supplied with enough energy. Being in a comfortable car, and under the right conditions, can make your drowsiness even worse.

Also, it's important that we remember that those who drive while they are drowsy are often compared to those who drive under the influence of alcohol. They experience the same disabilities such as: not being able to concentrate on the task at hand, not being able to understand perception, impaired vision as well as an inclination to take greater risks. Though coffee and other caffeinated products may help you to stay alert for a little while, it’s important that we understand that it can sometimes exacerbate the problem and make it worse.

Always remember that there is no substitute for a good night's rest.

Further Reading
If you enjoyed this article you will find the below of interest:
What damage is screen time before bed inflicting on your health?
How to get the perfect night's sleep?
How does stress affect how you sleep and work?

Or why not download our Sleep Tips SlideShare Guide and get the best sleep of your life.

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