In Queensland between 2004 and 2010 almost one in seven road accident fatalities were related to fatigue. Some injuries and fatalities could be avoided if drowsy drivers didn’t get behind the wheel. The key to changing these shocking statistics are taking action when you’re fatigued and developing habits that promote better sleep.
Sleep Deprivation Affects the Brain
Lack of sleep causes more than a few yawns. It changes the way the brain works. When you don’t get the rest you need, your mind tries to compensate. Neurons, the cells that send the signals to process information or move the body, slow down in an attempt to bring the brain to a sleep state. Your brain’s slowdown looks like:
missing exits and turns.
drifting out of your lane.
losing km’s (short-term memory loss wherein you forget the last few kilometers traveled).
increased aggression and mood changes.
When sleep deprived, your brain processes information at a slower rate, which affects decision-making skills and reaction times. The difference between a close call and a deadly accident may only be the matter of a few seconds. To make sensible decisions, the brain must be firing at full speed.
When It’s Time to Take Action
If you start to notice the symptoms of drowsy driving, even the early ones like slow blinking and frequent yawning, you can take action that could save a life. When driving alone, try pulling over in a safe, well-lit area to take a short nap. Short, 30-minute naps have been shown to reverse many of the effects of a bad night’s sleep. If you can’t spare that much time, 15-20 minutes might still be enough to get you home safely.
Road trips can be especially dangerous. When traveling with a partner, be sure to switch drivers every two hours. Take the time to close your eyes when you’re in the passenger seat. While you might lose a little time to fatigue, remember that you’re protecting yourself, your family, and everyone else on the road.
How to Get Better Sleep
For those who struggle with drowsy driving, try to make sleep a priority. Everything from stress to your work schedule may get in the way of getting a full seven to eight hours of sleep. But, better sleep can be yours with the right habits and conditions.
Create the Right Conditions: Your bedroom needs to be a sleep sanctuary. Be sure you have a comfortable mattress that supports your back and prevents any nighttime waking from aches and pains. The right pillow will also help you have a restful night. Keep your bedroom a cool 60-68 degrees at night and cut out as much sound and light as possible.
Eat the Right Food: Some foods actively promote better sleep. Foods rich in Vitamin B6, which is used to make melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, help your body regulate the sleep cycle. Try adding fish, chickpeas, or bananas into your diet. Calcium-rich foods also help the body release the hormones that trigger sleep. A warm glass of milk or low-fat yogurt before bed can help your eyes close faster at night.
Establish a Regular Bedtime Routine: Those who have trouble falling asleep often benefit from a regular bedtime routine that includes relaxing activities like a warm bath, reading a book, or a few deep breathing exercises. For the best results, perform your routine in the same order at the same time every night.