Sleepiness and driving are a dangerous combination: Sleepiness slows your reaction time, decreases your awareness and impairs your judgment. Still, according to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of Americans have driven while feeling sleepy, and 37 percent admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year. Many of us deny that we’re falling asleep or say, “I only have a few miles until I get home.” But such decisions can put you and other drivers at risk.
When you get behind the wheel, proceed with caution. Pull over and get some rest if you have any of the following signs:
- difficulty focusing, frequent blinking or heavy eyelids
- daydreaming or disconnected thoughts
- trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
- excessive yawning or eye rubbing
- trouble keeping your head up
- drifting from your lane or tailgating
- restlessness or irritability
It’s important to do your best to prevent drowsy driving:
Get enough sleep the night before. Adults should get at least eight hours of sleep a night.
Avoid overnight driving. Travel at times when you’re normally awake instead of driving through the night. And don’t work all day and then start a long drive: A driver who’s been awake 20 or more hours is at high risk of falling asleep.
Prepare for long trips. Going on a long trip? Travel with a companion so you can switch drivers when one of you needs a break.
Schedule stops every 100 miles or every two hours. That will let you stretch your legs and get some fresh air. Stop sooner if you get sleepy.
Avoid alcohol and medications. Certain over-the-counter or prescription medications can impair driving performance. And you should never drive under the influence of alcohol.
Remember safe drivers are alert—and even the safest drivers become dangerous when sleepy.