If you don’t get enough sleep overnight, you may come to a point where you’re literally falling asleep while driving. If you work out a plan that helps you adopt better sleep habits, it can help you avoid drowsiness behind the wheel. No one wants to have an accident or cause someone else to lose their vehicle – or worse – just because you’re having trouble getting enough good sleep.
Falling asleep while driving can literally be life threatening, for you and for other drivers. Many people have experienced driving drowsy, but if you become so tired that you nearly fall asleep at the wheel, this can mean you are suffering from serious sleep problems that you need to address, sooner rather than later.
If you nod off for as few as four seconds when you’re driving, you can be the cause of a potentially fatal accident. Even if you’re just drowsy while driving, it can slow your normal reaction time so much that you increase the risk for a serious highway or street accident.
Why are you Falling Asleep While Driving?
One of the most common reasons for driving drowsy is loss of sleep. Many health conditions may cause you to suffer from a case of sleep deprivation. There are many other causes for sleep deprivation, including lifestyle choices, stress and personal demands. Any of these, or a combination of them, can cause you to miss the seven to nine hours of sleep you need. Troubled sleep can also fail in providing adequate rest, which will cause you to feel drowsy during the day.
Alcohol & Medications
Alcohol and some medications are depressants. They increase your feelings of fatigue or sleepiness. Other medications are not depressants, but they may have the side effect of causing fatigue.
Ingesting anti-psychotics, benzodiazepines, antihistamines or anti-depressants before driving can be quite dangerous. If you have a new medication that you’ve never taken before, avoid driving until you are sure that it won’t cause you to become drowsy.
Disruption of your Biological Clock
Your biological clock, what you might call the circadian pacemaker, is the natural mechanism that tells your body when it’s time for you to sleep. This mechanism signals your brain to sleep in the middle of the afternoon, as well as during the overnight hours. If those are working hours for you, it may be more than embarrassing when your mind tells your body that it’s time to sleep.
Sleep disorders that go undiagnosed or are being improperly treated can cause you to become drowsy during the day. The symptoms may be worse if your job involves repetitive activities, including driving.
Make note of any other symptoms you are experiencing and consult with your physician to learn whether you have a sleep disorder, like obstructive apnea, restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy that may affect your ability to drive safely.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This medical condition will cause you to stop breathing during sleep. Your airway may become physically blocked, or it may become narrowed or floppy due to your body relaxing so much that your breathing-regulating muscles don’t work properly.
Sleep apnea may cause you to suffer headaches, or become impatient, grumpy or forgetful. You may nod off during daytime activities since you’re not getting enough beneficial rest overnight. Your physician can perform an echocardiogram or ECG, or check your arterial blood gasses and thyroid function to see if you have sleep apnea.
This is caused by triggers in the environment that tell your brain to release chemicals that cause sleep. It is chronic, and affects your own ability to regulate your sleep. The release of chemicals may cause severe daytime fatigue, loss of muscle control or strong emotions. You might also note sleep paralysis, night-time wakefulness, hallucinations or rapid entry into REM sleep.
Your physician may perform sleep latency testing, spinal fluid analysis or a nocturnal polysomnogram to see if you have narcolepsy.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Along with periodic limb movement disorder, this can cause daytime fatigue, insomnia and daytime sleepiness. It may also cause you problems when you are attempting to move your arms or legs, which may result in your losing control while driving.
If you have symptoms of limb movement disorders, you can consult with your physician to see if your case will require treatment. You may be prescribed medication to help avoid daytime attacks.
Sleep Loss or Poor Sleep Habits
If you want to remain healthy and productive, you need seven to nine hours of restful sleep each night. Working late, staying up late at social gatherings or parties, or worrying about financial or personal problems can interrupt your sleep schedule.
If you fail to get enough sleep every night, or interrupt your proper sleep schedule, it can cause daytime drowsiness. If you don’t address the condition, you could experience falling asleep while driving.
Tips for Safer, Wakeful Driving
Get enough Sleep
One important tip to avoid feeling drowsy when you drive is being sure that you get sufficient sleep each night. Set your schedule so that you’re able to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep every night. Go to bed at close to the same time each night and try to get up at roughly the same time each day. This accustoms your body to your new schedule.
You also need to get restful sleep at night. Don’t eat a lot right before you go to bed, and don’t eat heavy meals. Don’t drink alcohol in the last few hours before bedtime. Avoid caffeine or energy drinks for six hours or more before it’s time to sleep. If you still have troubles in sleeping, make your bedroom more comfortable, and block out excessive noise and light. Turn off your TV and computer or tablet.
Tips for On-the-Road Driving
Don’t head out on the road if you’re feeling at all drowsy. Have someone else give you a ride, or call Uber. If you must drive for a long time period, don’t use cruise control. This makes you concentrate more on your driving, which is helpful in staying alert.
If you can feel yourself becoming distracted or drowsy, keep your car colder, to keep you alert. Start a conversation or listen to music to relieve driving monotony.
Don’t drive for long time periods overnight, especially alone. If you have to drive long distance, stop every hour or two and walk around a bit to increase your body’s levels of energy. Stop at rest areas if you need sleep. Take a 20-30 minute nap so you won’t risk falling asleep while driving. Sit up straight when you drive. Slouching in your seat may promote sleepiness, especially if you must drive at night.