woman driving as the sun sets

You wouldn’t consider getting behind the wheel if you’d been drinking, but what if you haven’t been getting enough zzzs?

It is estimated that one in five motor vehicle mortalities involve a drowsy driver. The Sleep Foundation reports that sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol. For example, being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (for reference, .08 is considered drunk). If you’ve been awake for a full 24 hours and drive — say, after a night where you just couldn’t fall asleep — it’s like you have a blood alcohol level of .10.  

If you are chronically overtired because of insomnia, sleep apnea or some other sleep disorder you might be driving drowsy.

Who is most likely to drive drowsy?

  • Drivers who do not get enough sleep
  • Commercial drivers who operate vehicles such as tow trucks, tractor-trailers and buses
  • Shift workers (work the night shift or long shifts)
  • Drivers with untreated sleep disorders such as one where breathing repeatedly stops and starts (sleep apnea)
  • Drivers who use medications that make them sleepy

Warning signs of driving drowsy:

  • Yawning or blinking frequently
  • Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven
  • Missing your exit
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Hitting a rumble strip

If you experience any of the warning signs of drowsy driving, pull over to a safe place and take a 15-20 minute nap or change drivers. Simply turning up the radio or opening the window are not effective ways to keep you alert.

 How to prevent drowsy driving

There are four things you should do before taking the wheel to prevent driving while drowsy:

  • Get enough sleep. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep a day, while adolescents need at least eight hours.
  • Develop good sleeping habits such as sticking to a sleep schedule.
  • If you have a sleep disorder or have symptoms of a sleep disorder, such as snoring or feeling sleepy during the day, talk to your physician about treatment options. Ask about a sleep study.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or taking medications that make you sleepy. Be sure to check the label on any medications or talk to your pharmacist.
David Sholes

        David Sholes

Why should you consider a sleep study?

“People don’t have to live with poor sleep – and in fact, shouldn’t – to protect their health,” said David Sholes, manager of neurodiagnostics, TMC Sleep Diagnostics. “The first step is to find out the severity of what they are experiencing and what classification of sleep disordered breathing they are presenting with so we can suggest what kind of treatment options exist to help.”

Can I have a sleep study at home?

One increasingly popular way to determine if you might be experiencing sleep disturbances is to consider a sleep study at home. 

It’s not as comprehensive as a study in a sleep lab, but for those whose schedules or life circumstances won’t allow an overnight test in a lab environment, it can at least help pinpoint whether someone falls in the normal range of sleep patterns or should have additional follow up.

For more information, please visit our Sleep Center web page.