Many people admit to feeling drowsy while driving. A number of recent studies have shown the relationship between sleep and accidents. A study in the USA concluded that 52% of accidents involving heavy trucks were related to driver fatigue!
The connection between sleeping and risk of accidents is strong. Lack of sleep affects our ability to concentrate and function correctly. Driving and operating heavy machinery often requires long periods of concentration and repetitive tasks. This often takes place in an environment, which encourages sleepiness. A warm car, comfortable seat and soft music and a dark road can be a lethal combination to a sleepy driver.
Studies have also shown that drivers tend to reduce the number of hours they sleep before embarking on a long journey. Many people even consider driving as ‘relaxing’ and a time when they are free from the stresses of a busy life.
Risk and Sleep
Young people are even more likely to be unaware of their sleep debt than older adults. A belief that they are able to do without sleep as they are young, or trying to cope with demands such as commuting to work, driving at night or a busy social life means they are at greater risk of suffering from sleep debt.
Research has shown that drivers suffering from Sleep Apnea have a higher risk of accidents. The good news is that treatment of the condition considerably improves driving performance and a decrease in accidents.
This emphasises the importance of recognising and treating sleep disturbances. Although little research has been done on the relationship between accidents and insomnia, it is likely that lack of sleep is a major contributor in many accidents.
Shifts and Sleep
Professional drivers are particularly at risk. Shift patterns, night time driving and long journeys over a long period make them vulnerable to sleep problems and lack of sleep. Many drivers do not receive enough sleep before a long journey. One study showed an average of only 6 hours sleep before embarking on a long journey. Another study found a connection between seeping less than 5 hours and driving between 2 and 5 am. Shift work has also been cited as a reason for crashing.
Lorry and train drivers, doctors and nurses and many others are involved in shift work and work long hours. Long shifts and disrupted sleep leave certain categories of workers at risk.
Those involved in night driving and early starts need to take particular care that they are getting enough sleep. Although most people are aware of the risks of driving when tired, the need to get to work or home means they are unable to change their routine.
Taking a short nap before or during a journey may help and coffee breaks will keep you alert in the short term. Cold air and listening to the radio are less effective.
Lack of sleep affects concentration and decision making. This causes accidents on the road, at work and in the home. Without sufficient sleep we are putting ourselves, our families and others at risk. We may not be able to change the hours we work but a few hours extra sleep may be the difference between life and death.