The Dangers of Fatigue and Sleepiness While Driving

Driving tired is like driving drunk. This is one thing that all drivers should be aware of. Accidents are likely to happen if you hit the wheels without getting enough rest. Lack of sleep while driving can cause the following:

  • Drivers drifting within their lane, moving from one side to the other.
  • Slow reaction time during certain situations such as not realizing that the car in front has braked or braking unexpectedly to avoid a rear-end crash.
  • Unable to maintain a consistent speed such as speeding or slowing down randomly whenever there’s no traffic ahead.
  • Can’t pay attention to road signs.

Myriad of research has been conducted to address sleepy driving. And it shows that 15-25% of fatal vehicle accidents are indeed caused by sleepy driving. Drivers below 25 years old are prominent in numbers in these statistics because they are much likely to have less sleep.

How Does Sleepiness Start?

Let’s break down sleep’s three components down below:

  • Circadian: This is the component that makes us sleepy twice a day. This happens between 1-6am and between 2-4pm. These are the times where it’s too risky to drive.
  • Homeostatic: This is the internal drive to make us go to sleep. Once you wake up, this component eases down and builds up throughout the day.
  • Arousal: An external and internal stimuli that changes how sleepy you are. It includes movement, chemicals such as caffeine, and mental stimulation such as having a conversation with someone.

Among the three, arousal effects are short-lived. They only work for a short period of time and will be taken over by the first two components before it takes action. Such example includes opening your car window for a few minutes. This triggers arousal to prevent you from falling asleep, but the effect disappears quickly in a matter of minutes. Things such as turning the radio on, or drinking an energy drink can give you a quarter of an hour. These are simple things you can do to ward off sleep before you arrive at your destination.

Sleep Debt

Delaying or shortening your sleep will lead to sleep debt that’s difficult to catch up. Sleep debt is often caused by:

  • Circadian rhythm disruption such as jet lag or work shifts.
  • Sleep fragmentation such as a storm keeping you awake, your partner snoring too loud.
  • Partial sleep disruption such as going to bed late from a party, or digging in social media during the night.
  • Chronic reduction during sleep time such as getting less sleep than the usual because of your beliefs or daily habits.

7-8 hours of sleep is the recommended sleeping time for us. However, there are some people that can sleep less and still get energized throughout the day, while there are others that cannot. Sleep debt is like a thing that one size “doesn’t” fit all. A 1-hour reduction of sleep for a particular person can be a 3-hour equivalent to another.

How to Determine If You’re Sleepy When Driving

Symptoms may vary depending on a person. Others may have their usual daily routine where they rub their heads before going to sleep. However, a combination of symptoms is the one that will alert you that you are not just a little sleepy, but you are way to sleepy indeed. Symptoms include:

  • Yawning (the most common symptom of them all)
  • Lack of concentration (your mind is going places that you don’t even realize that you just drove for 5km without noticing)
  • Frequently changing positions (you’re uncomfortable on where you are)
  • Head nodding
  • Inability to keep eyes open for long
  • Having difficulty to focus
  • Feeling irritable
  • Unable to stay on their lane

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