(RxWiki News) November 3-10 is National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) hopes to raise awareness about this serious public health issue. While drunk driving is very dangerous, driving while drowsy can be just as dangerous and potentially fatal.
According to the NSF, there are warning signs that you may be drowsy while driving. These signs can include frequent eye blinking or yawning, head nodding and drifting into other lanes.
In order to prevent drowsy driving, the NSF recommends getting enough sleep the night before, taking a short 20 minute nap during the day or drinking two cups of coffee or another caffeinated beverage.
The NSF notes that there is a need for more attention, education and policies on drowsy driving prevention.
"Pull over in a safe area if you feel drowsy while driving."
The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that one out of every six fatal traffic accidents and one out of every eight crashes that require hospitalization is caused by drowsy driving.
Young people in particular seem to be at a greater risk for driving while drowsy, according to a survey from AAA. One in seven drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 admitted to falling asleep at the wheel in the past year, compared to one in ten drivers of all ages.
According to the NSF, everyone needs between seven and nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night to function at their peak. The NSF further reported that when people don’t get enough sleep, it can cause sleepiness which has been linked to impaired reaction time, memory and decision making.
"This is another timely reminder of the dangers of drowsy driving," said Robert S. Rosenberg, DO, leading national expert in sleep medicine practicing at Sleep Disorders Centers of Prescott Valley and Flagstaff.
"Recent estimates are that drowsy driving accounts for 12.5 percent of fatal crashes. 11 percent of all drivers report falling asleep behind the wheel during the past 12 months," said Dr. Rosenberg.
"If you are driving, you should get at least seven hours of sleep and teenagers should have about nine hours. Several studies have shown that a cup of coffee just before a 20 minute nap can significantly increase driving alertness," he said.
While drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving, there is no specific test to determine if a person is drowsy while driving. However, the NSF encourages people who are driving to be on the lookout for any of the following signs:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Drifting from your lane, swerving or tailgating
- Inability to clearly remember the last few miles driven
- Missing exits or traffic signs
- Frequent yawning
- Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive
The best way to prevent drowsy driving is to get a good night’s sleep (seven to nine hours) before hitting the road, according to the NSF. Other tips listed by the NSF for drivers include the following:
- Don’t be too rushed to arrive at your destination.
- Avoid driving alone for long distances.
- Take a break every 100 miles or two hours.
- Take a nap — find a safe place to take a 15 to 20 minute nap if you think you might fall asleep.
- Avoid alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness as a side effect.
- Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
- Consume caffeine.
For more information about drowsy driving, visit the National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week website.