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Studies from the Washington-based National Sleep Foundation indicate that about one-quarter of shiftworkers have had a traffic accident or close call in the past year.
According to NSF, drowsiness has a number of physical side effects that can impair driving, including tunnel vision, shortened attention span and reduced reaction times. If a driver falls asleep at the wheel, no attempt at a corrective maneuver can be made, causing accidents to potentially be even more severe than they would be if the driver were awake and alert.
Many people have misconceptions about sleep that NSF dispels below:
Myth: Coffee can overcome drowsiness while driving.
NSF says: Although caffeine may make you feel more alert, only sleep can truly overcome drowsiness. People who take stimulants while severely sleep deprived are likely to have “micro sleeps,” which are essentially four- to five-second naps. A vehicle travelling 55 mph can cover more than 100 yards in four to five seconds – plenty of time for an accident.
NSF says: The only safe driver is an alert one. When sleepy, even the best drivers become confused and use poor judgment. Myth: I can’t take naps.
NSF says: Even if you think you can’t nap, pull over and recline for 15 minutes – it is likely you will be able to fall asleep. Always be sure to do so safely, in busy areas with your car doors locked.
Myth: I can tell when I am going to fall asleep.
NSF says: While most people feel they can control and predict when they are about to fall asleep, they cannot. Often, when a person is drowsy they can fall asleep without even being aware of it.
When drowsiness strikes
If you find yourself falling asleep behind the wheel you should immediately take measures to get home safely. Hitting a rumble strip is one sign you are too tired to be behind the wheel. Pull over immediately. Under no circumstances should you continue driving drowsy. Turning up the radio, rolling down the windows, getting out of the car, and slapping yourself are not effective means of waking yourself up.
Options for getting home safely include taking a nap on the side of the road until you are rested enough to drive, calling a friend or family member to come pick you up, or taking a cab or public transportation home.
You also can take measures to prevent drowsiness from striking. The average person requires anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep each night. It is best if you can stick to a regular sleep schedule.
If your schedule requires you to sleep during daytime hours, be sure you keep your room dark or wear a sleep mask to block out the light. Also block out outside sounds by wearing earplugs or creating “white noise,” such as running a fan. Good, uninterrupted sleep is essential for safety on the job and on the road.?