Driving when tired is dangerous. Full stop. But in these busy times, how can we avoid it?
Fighting to stay awake at work is an issue many people have faced at least once in their careers. Sometimes life gets in the way of work and you have a long night with little sleep. If you have a desk job, you can maybe even get away with it. Closing your eyes for a few minutes in the break room won’t cause harm to anyone but your pride if a co-worker or your boss catches you.
But when your job is on the road, there is a lot more at stake than just a stern talking to. Being drowsy while you’re driving puts you in a dangerous position. You can harm yourself and many others if you don’t take proper care to prevent drifting off while you’re on the road.
The dangers of drowsy driving
Sleep-deprived driving includes the operation of a motor vehicle while being cognitively impaired by a lack of sleep. Are you guilty of this? Probably.
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 poll, 60% of adult drivers say they have operated a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year. This amounts to about 168 million people. Even more shocking, 37% claimed to have actually fallen asleep at the wheel.
While it may not seem like a huge threat to go through life’s daily activities feeling tired, driving while sleep deprived is extremely dangerous. Sleep deprivation is one of the major causes of motor vehicle accidents. Driving drowsy can even be just as dangerous as driving while drunk.
Research shows that going without sleep for 18 hours straight gives you the equivalent feeling of driving like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (for reference, .08 is classified as drunk). Driving after being awake for a full 24 hours if you had a night without sleep is like having a blood alcohol level as high as .10.
Unfortunately there is no test for driving drowsy that can indicate exact levels of someone who should get off the road. While drunk drivers have a breathalyzer to tell them to stop driving, a drowsy driver only has their own accountability to lean on.
Take your safety, and others, seriously and know when it’s time to get off the road.
What to do if you are drowsy at the wheel
When you’re on the job for a long trip and you start feeling sleepy at the wheel, there are some measures you can take to ensure your safety and others around you.
Pull off the road to a truck stop or petrol station. If you feel your eyes getting heavy while at the wheel, you should immediately get off of the road. Every minute you shrug off your exhaustion, you are increasingly putting yourself and others at danger.
Once you get to a rest stop, grab some food. Your instincts may be to fuel your body with a cup of coffee or a chocolate bar, but a high-energy snack like almonds, hummus or berries will be more effective.
Do anything to make yourself more alert. Roll down the windows, blast the AC, splash some cold water on your face, whatever it takes to increase your alertness.
Speaking of water, while you’re at it, hydrate too. In the same way that your car doesn’t run as well without petrol, neither does your body without water.
Get your blood pumping. To further increase your alertness, try doing some cardio! Physical activity like jumping jacks, hopping in place or body weight squats are a great way to get your blood pumping and jerk your body out of relaxation.
Whatever the case, don’t get back on the road until you feel properly alert and awake.
How to avoid dozing off while driving
According to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who sleep five to six hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in an accident as those sleeping over seven hours. People who sleep less than five hours increased their risk by four to five times.
The best way to prevent being tired while you’re on the road is to get a good night’s rest consistently. Sticking to a schedule of going to sleep and waking up at the same time will help set your body in a comfortable rhythm and knowing when to be high and low energy.
If you have trouble sleeping at night, consider factors that could help. A comfortable and supportive bed is vital for a good night’s rest and the ability to wake up refreshed and energised. In the UK, 2.5 million people have back pain daily. It’s important to take time to assess your needs and sleep in a bed where you can always wake up on the right side pain-free.
If factors such as light or sound are getting in the way of a good night’s sleep, find simple solutions like blackout curtains or a white noise machine to block out light sources and make noise disruptions.