It’s no secret that lack of sleep takes a toll on your health, both mentally and physically. However, driving while tired is often overlooked. It’s the common misconception that you’re not that tired or you’re not that far away from your destination. This couldn’t be more wrong. Over time, individuals who regularly get 6 hours of sleep or less will find their reaction time has slowed to a quarter of a second to almost 4 seconds. Believe it or not, 4 seconds is all it takes to swerve off the road, hit someone, or run a red light.
Lack of sleep impairs your body’s ability to make sound decisions and according to the National Sleep Foundation, being awake for 18 hours straight is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .05. In one study, one-third of drivers have reported falling asleep at the wheel, and in the United States, drowsy drivers cause half a million crashes, 100,000 injuries, and 1,600 deaths every year.
Sleep deprivation impairs 4 areas of driving. These include:
- Longer reaction times
- Impaired judgment
- Impaired memory and ability to retain information
Many drivers fall into a microsleep. A microsleep is defined as “the process of entering incredibly short periods of very light sleep which typically occur whilst undergoing monotonous tasks which have been completed habitually before, hence requiring the least amount of attention.” (Nugent, 2013). It is the equivalent of being in a daze. Part of the brain will fall asleep while the rest of the brain is awake. These brief episodes are accompanied by blank stare and head bobbing.
Tips to Avoid Microsleep
- Get the required 7-9 hours of sleep before a drive
- Schedule regular stops at 2 hour intervals
- Take a 20-minute power nap at a designated rest stop
- Bring a co-pilot to take shifts at the wheel
If that’s not enough, here are some famous disasters known to have been caused by microsleeps:
- Chernobyl nuclear explosion
- Exxon Valdez oil spill
- Space shuttle Challenger explosion