When you are behind the wheel of a car, being sleepy is dangerous. Sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, and impairs judgment, just like drugs or alcohol. And, just like drugs and alcohol, sleepiness can contribute to a collision.
Most people know how dangerous drinking and driving is -- but they may not know that driving drowsy can be just as fatal as driving drunk.
[answer the quiz before you read any further]
Everyone Has A Biological Clock: TRUE
Your biological clock tells you when it's lunchtime, gives you pep at certain times of day, and affects your body temperature. Most people's clocks run on a daily rhythm of approximately 24 hours, called a "circadian rhythm" (from the Latin "approximately a day"). But what biological "time" it is differs from person to person. "Morning people" feel most alert in the early part of the day, while "night people" enjoy staying up late. Many teenagers and young people have clocks that make it easy for them to stay up late and sleep late. As people get older, they tend to wake up earlier and go to bed early.
However, almost everyone's clock is programmed to make them feel sleepy in the middle of the afternoon and this can be a dangerous time. Many fatigue-related collisions happen between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m., during the "afternoon lull." People often blame this sleepy period on eating a heavy lunch, but even people who eat lightly experience it.
Night time is especially risky for drivers. Most people are programmed to sleep when it's dark, and sleep becomes irresistible late at night. Avoid driving during the "low" period between 2:00 and 6:00 a.m.
To be a safer driver, become aware of your own biological clock. What times of day do you feel most alert? What times do you feel most drowsy? Once you are aware of your personal cycle, you can take extra care when you're likely to feel sleepy.
Drinking Coffee Cures Drowsiness While Driving:FALSE
While coffee can be an effective temporary remedy, stimulants are no substitute for sleep. Drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee or cola, can help you feel more alert, but the effects last only for a short time. If you drink coffee and are seriously sleep-deprived, you are still likely to have "micro-sleeps." These are brief naps that last only four or five seconds. At 55 miles an hour, you travel more than 100 yards -- and that's plenty of time to kill you.
I Can Tell When I'm Going To Go To Sleep: FALSE
Don't be embarrassed if you said "True." If you're like most people, you believe you can control your sleep. In a test, nearly four-fifths of people said they could predict when they were about to fall asleep. They were wrong.
The truth is, sleep is not voluntary. If you're drowsy or seriously sleep-deprived, you can fall asleep and never even know it. You also cannot tell how long you've been asleep. When you're driving, being asleep for even a few seconds can kill you or someone else.
Here are a few ways for you to tell if you're about to fall asleep. Even if you are not aware of being drowsy, if you have a sleep debt you are still at risk. If you experience any of these danger signs, take them as a warning that you could fall asleep without meaning to:
* Your eyes close or go out of focus by themselves.
* You have trouble keeping your head up.
* You can't stop yawning.
* You have wandering, disconnected thoughts.
* You don't remember driving the last few miles.
* You drift between lanes, tailgate, or miss traffic signs.
* You keep jerking the car back into the lane
* You have drifted off the road and narrowly missed crashing.
If you have even one of these symptoms, you may be in danger of falling asleep. Pull off the road and take a nap.
I'm A Safe Driver So It Doesn't Matter If I'm Sleepy: FALSE
The only safe driver is an alert driver. Even the safest drivers become confused and use poor judgment when they are sleepy. A young man was awarded "America's Safest Teen Driver" in 1990 and was given a new car for one year. One afternoon a few months later, he fell asleep at the wheel and was killed. In order to be a safe driver you must have your eyes open, and that means staying off the road when you're sleepy.
In addition, alcohol makes fatigue much worse. One drink has the same effect on a tired driver as four or five drinks for a well-rested person. If it's late and you know you have to drive, don't make matters worse by drinking.
I Can't Take Naps: FALSE
Many people insist they can't nap. Yet even people who say they are not tired will quickly fall asleep in a darkened room if they have not been getting enough sleep. The "Mean Sleep Latency Test" measures how long it takes a person to fall asleep in a comfortable, darkened environment. A person is judged to be seriously fatigued if it takes five or fewer minutes to fall asleep.
If you think you can't nap, stop the car and recline for 15 minutes anyway. You may be surprised at how easily you fall asleep once you give yourself the chance.
If you're concerned about safety, plan your route so you can stop at well-lit rest stops or truck stops on heavily traveled roads. A motel or hotel parking lot can also be a good place to stop. Never just stop at the side of the highway; it is dangerous and illegal. The busier the place you stop to rest, the less opportunity there is for crime. Always lock your doors and roll up the windows.
Nearly Everyone Gets Enough Sleep: FALSE
According to a recent survey, half of Americans report occasional sleeping difficulties. There is a good chance that you really aren't getting all the sleep you need. Ask yourself: "Do I wake up rested?" The average person needs seven or eight hours of sleep a night. If you go to bed late and wake up early to an alarm clock, you are probably building up a sleep debt during the week. If you spend eight hours in bed but still feel tired when you get up, you may have a sleep disorder that prevents you from sleeping soundly enough to feel rested.
Many people short-change themselves on sleep during the week and make it up on weekends. This means that by Friday night party time they are more likely to be driving drowsy. Try to rearrange your schedule so you get enough sleep during the week, and see a doctor if you have any symptoms of a sleep disorder.
Being Sleepy Makes You Misperceive Things: TRUE
Have you ever driven at night and seen something you thought was an animal but turned out to be only a paper bag or a dead leaf? That's only one of the many ways sleepy drivers misjudge their surroundings. A drowsy driver doesn't process information as fast or as accurately as an alert driver, and is unable to react quickly enough to avoid a collision. For example, a drowsy driver may not notice that a car ahead has put on its brake lights. Drowsiness can also narrow a driver's field of vision, so that objects or people at the side of the road cannot be seen
Young People Need Less Sleep: FALSE
In fact, teenagers and young adults need more sleep than people in their 30s. They often get less, because they enjoy staying up late and have a wide range of responsibilities. Teenagers and young adults who get up early tend to feel alert in the evening, especially if they're at a party or a place where there's a lot to keep them interested. They think that being able to stay up late means they don't' need much sleep. The problem is, the temporary alertness wears off once they're away from the stimulation and they can end up driving home drowsy.
If I sleep a lot now, I won't need to sleep as much later:FALSE
Sleep is not like money. You can't save it up ahead of time and you can't borrow it. But, just as with money, you can go into debt with it. If you don't sleep enough, you "owe" more sleep to yourself. This debt can only be paid off by sleeping. You can't overcome it with willpower, and it won't go away by itself.
Sleep is a basic biological appetite, like hunger or thirst. To stop feeling hungry or thirsty, you need an outside source of food or water. To stop feeling sleepy, all your body has to do is throw the switch and go to sleep. People who are seriously short of sleep can fall asleep easily and quickly, even while they're doing something else -- like driving.
Millions of people have a serious sleep debt. Most of them lose sleep because they stay up too late or get up too early to give themselves a good night's rest. But many other people have sleep disorders that keep them from sleeping soundly enough to feel rested. When your sleep debt gets big enough, there is nothing you can do that will keep you awake.
Many people feel awake when they are at a party, where there's a lot of stimulation and activity. But when they get behind the wheel of a car, the excitement wears off, the monotony of driving takes over, and the urge to sleep can become overpowering. Partygoers are also often driving drowsy and driving after drinking -- a particularly dangerous combination.
Driving Makes You Sleepy: FALSE
Driving, especially for long distances, only reveals your true level of sleepiness. At the start of a trip excitement makes a driver feel alert, but the alertness wears off once the trip is underway. Here are some suggestions to avoid driving tired:
1- Start any trip by getting enough sleep the night before. Plan to drive during the times of day when you are normally awake, and stay overnight rather than traveling through.
2- Avoid driving during your body's "down time." Take a mid-afternoon break and find a place to sleep between midnight and 6 a.m.
3- Talk with your passenger if you have someone else in the car. A passenger can also let you know when you are showing signs of sleepiness. If your passenger thinks you are getting sleepy, let someone else drive or pull over and sleep. A nap could save your life and the lives of others.
4- Make sure both people in the front seat of the car are awake. A driver who needs rest should go to the back seat, buckle up, and sleep.
5- Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles. Stop sooner if you show any danger signs of sleepiness. If you're getting a AAA or CAA Triptik, ask the travel counselor to indicate appropriate stops where you can get coffee or take a nap. During our break, take a nap, stretch, take a walk, and get some exercise before getting back into the car.
Even people who get 8 hours sleep may not be well rested: TRUE
If you answered "True," you are not alone. More than one person in ten has frequent trouble sleeping. If you often cannot sleep, or if you wake up feeling tired and not rested, you may have a sleep disorder. There are several different kinds of sleep disorders.
In sleep apnea, a common disorder, the sleeper's throat relaxes so deeply that it causes trouble with breathing. (Having a large neck can contribute to sleep apnea. The problem is common among men who wear a size 17 collar or larger.) The sleeper gasps, wakes up enough to start breathing normally, and then goes back to sleep without being aware of the problem. This process repeats itself as many as 600 times a night. The result: Someone who's been in bed for eight hours but who has not had enough sleep.
Other sleep disorders include restless leg syndrome, in which leg twitches keep the sleeper awake; chronic insomnia, which makes it difficult to go to sleep or causes midnight awakening; and narcolepsy, which can cause sleep at inappropriate times such as while driving or during conversation.
Check your symptoms with this short quiz:
* Do you snore loudly?
* Do you gasp and choke in your sleep?
* Do you spend eight or more hours in bed but still feel as though you have not had enough sleep?
* Do you take frequent naps?
* Do you fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as during meetings, or at concerts and movies?
* Do you have trouble getting to sleep, or do you wake up for a few hours during the night?
* Does your spouse notice you have trouble breathing when you are asleep?