If you’re a responsible adult these days, chances are that when you go to a party and have a couple of drinks, you take a taxi back home, or ask your friend to drive you. It’s not fun taking turns with your partner when it comes to having drinking (you drink today, I drink tomorrow, because one of us has to drive) but that’s what responsible adults do.
But what if we told you that sleep deprivation has the same effect on your driving skills as drinking alcohol?
How dangerous is drowsy driving?
Is drowsy driving really that dangerous? Yes it is.
If you didn’t get enough sleep and your brain is not rested enough, your reaction times are slower and our ability to focus is impaired. Compared to drunk driving, drowsy driving sounds innocuous enough, but studies show that the effect of poor sleep on your brain is comparable to the effect of alcohol.
In fact, Sleep Health Foundation compares it directly to drunk driving, saying: “If you drive after 17 hours without sleep, your performance is as bad as driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent. Getting up at 7 in the morning, staying awake during the day, going out in the evening and then driving home at midnight gets you to this level. Twenty four hours without sleep is as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent.”
The director of the Sleep Health Foundation, Dr David Hillman, speaking to Huffington Post says: “There is a false belief shared by a lot of us that sleep is a waste of time and that we can get away with less than we really need, but the truth is people who cut corners with their sleep function below their best. They are not as mentally sharp, as vigilant, as attentive or as patient as they would otherwise be.”
A danger to yourself and others
You might think that your sleep patterns is your personal issue, but the reality is that if you’re driving while sleep deprived, you’re seriously endangering both yourself and others.
Overall, more than 20 per cent of road accidents in Victoria happen because of fatigue.
A study that surveyed sleep patterns of 1011 Australians, found that 29 per cent of people drive while drowsy at least once per month. In addition, 20 per cent of respondents admitted to nodding off at the wheel at least once, and five per cent had an accident in the past year because of drowsy driving.
Signs and strategies to prevent
How do we combat this depressing statistics? The most obvious strategy is to start getting enough sleep. But that may be a long-term goal for many of us.
While you’re working on it, in the meantime you can try and avoid drowsy driving whenever possible. Start treating it as seriously as drunk driving.
If you can’t keep your eyes open, have trouble keeping your head up, can’t stop yawning or show other signs of sleepiness, consider calling a taxi.
If you absolutely have to drive, or if you’re driving long distance or overnight, try to at least have a power nap after lunch. Share driving with a buddy. Don’t rely on caffeine to keep you awake (it helps only for a very short time). If you’re feeling drowsy, better to stop driving and have a nap.
Start taking your sleep seriously as if your life depends on it. Because it does.