Guest Post by Tuck Sleep
In a fast-paced world, many people place sleep at the bottom of their priority list. After all, many believe they can catch up on it later. If they understood the true cost of sleep deprivation, they would be far more likely to make sure sleep moved to the top of the list. Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on the mind and body and puts far too many people at risk when drowsy drivers take to the streets.
Driving with a Sleep-Deprived Brain
Adults need a full seven to eight hours of sleep every day, yet each year there are nearly 328,000 car accidents involving fatigued drivers. Even an hour less and the body starts to show signs of fatigue. Lack of sleep affects everything from the immune system to appetite. More importantly, when it comes to driving, it affects the brain. Sleep provides time for the brain to strengthen connections and eliminate those that aren’t needed.
Without adequate rest, the brain can’t perform these necessary biological functions. In response, the synapses in the brain that control everything from movement to memory begin to slow down. In this case, lack of sleep leads to:
It’s easy to see how these effects alter driving ability. The brain cannot make the quick decisions necessary for safe driving. These symptoms cause problems well before an accident. They’re often seen as:
If you’re on the road and find yourself struggling to stay awake, pull over in a safe place. A short 15-30 minute nap can be enough to counteract some of the effects of sleep deprivation and allow you to get home safely. On road trips, switch drivers every two hours so each driver has a chance to rest. However, the long-term solution to drowsy driving lies in getting better sleep.
Better Sleep and Safer DrivingNot only do you need seven to eight hours of sleep, you need the high-quality rest that takes you through all four sleep stages. Stress, shift work, and certain medical conditions can all interfere with your sleep cycle. With the right conditions and habits in place, you can get better sleep so that you’re not putting yourself or your family at risk when you get behind the wheel.
Make Sure You’re Not Suffering from a Sleep Disorder
If you’re going to bed at a regular time, spending enough hours asleep, and still waking up exhausted, you may have a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea can cause fragmented sleep or short episodes of wakefulness throughout the night--and those moments of alertness are often so short that you don’t even remember them the next day. Talk to your doctor if you suspect that you have sleep apnea. Fortunately, many non-surgical options are available for treating obstructive sleep apnea; one of the most common devices in use is the CPAP machine, which uses air pressure to prevent your airways from closing while you sleep.
Create Sleep-Promoting Conditions
The bedroom needs to be your sleep sanctuary. Keep your bedroom at a cool 60-68 degrees and keep light and sound to a minimum. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress that supports your body in your favorite sleep position. The right mattress can eliminate aches and pains that may be keeping you from reaching the deep sleep you need.
Keep a Consistent Bedtime
The body runs on circadian rhythms that rely on you keeping a regular sleep schedule. A consistent bedtime helps establish and keep those rhythms running smooth. With consistency, your brain will start to send out the right hormones like melatonin at the correct times of the day so you’re ready to get a full night’s rest.
Eliminate Sleep Disruptors
Stimulants like caffeine can keep you awake long past your bedtime. Stop drinking or eating stimulants at least four hours before bedtime. The bright light from televisions, laptops, e-readers, and smartphones can make the brain believe it's time to stay awake. Turning off screens an hour before bed can help keep your circadian rhythms in sync.
Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been referenced by Well + Good, Smithsonian Magazine, Harvard University and by many sleep organizations across the web.
Dr. Maltz earned a Medical Degree and Master in Public Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX. She completed a combined Internal and Preventive Medicine Residency at UTMB in June, 2011. She then completed a 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT, during which she simultaneously underwent an intensive 1000-hour curriculum created by The University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Program founded by Dr. Andrew Weil.