Forty-five percent of adults have struggled to stay awake while driving, according to a new survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Additionally, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that drowsy driving causes an average of 328,000 motor vehicle accidents, including 6,400 fatal crashes, each year in the U.S., making drowsy driving a serious public health concern.
The recent AASM Sleep Prioritization Survey of 2,003 U.S. adults asked participants if they have ever struggled to stay awake while driving a vehicle.
Driving while drowsy is similar to drunk driving, with delays in reaction time and impairment in decision-making. Drowsy driving can be deadly, yet it is 100% preventable.
The best way to stay awake at the wheel is by ensuring you are getting enough nightly sleep. To help prevent drowsy driving, drivers should avoid driving late at night or while alone. If possible, it’s also best to share driving responsibility on long trips.
While on the road, caffeine can provide a short-term boost, but if you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open, then it’s definitely time to pull over. Turning up the music or rolling down the windows will not keep you alert while driving. The best option is to get off the road and take a nap if you feel sleepy behind the wheel.
How do you know if you’re too sleepy to drive? Be aware of these warning signs of drowsy driving:
- Frequent yawning or inability to keep your eyes open
- Catching yourself “nodding off” or having trouble keeping your head up
- Inability to remember driving the last few miles
- Missing road signs or driving past your turn
- Following too close to cars in front of you
- Drifting into the other lane of traffic
- Driving onto the “rumble strip” or the shoulder of the road
There is no substitute for healthy sleep. Regular, healthy sleep is essential for staying awake at the wheel and protecting yourself and others from avoidable, potentially life-threatening accidents on the road. Ongoing, excessive sleepiness could be a sign of a sleep disorder. If you regularly feel extremely sleepy, talk to your doctor, who may refer you to the sleep team at an accredited sleep center for help. To learn more about healthy sleep habits and ways to stay awake at the wheel, visit SleepEducation.org.