Health & Wellness

Driving while drowsy may be more dangerous than thought

If you didn't get a full seven hour's of sleep last night, it may be a bad idea to get behind the wheel.

Drivers who miss only one to two hours of the recommended amount of sleep the night before nearly double their risk for a crash, according to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

"Getting only four to five hours of sleep in a night is the same as driving when legally drunk, and if you sleep less than four hours in given 24-hour period, you are as impaired as you would be if you are twice the legal limit of alcohol," Jake Nelson, director, Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research of AAA, told TODAY.

Missing two to three hours of sleep in a 24-hour period more than quadruples the risk of a crash, compared to drivers who get seven hours of sleep.

How serious is the risk of encountering a drowsy driver? People who wouldn't drive while drunk or text and drive may drive while sleepy.

At least one in 25 drivers surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 confessed to nodding off at the wheel in the previous month. Sleep-impaired driving was a factor in as many as 6,000 fatal crashes in 2013.

Symptoms of drowsy driving can include:

  • yawning or blinking frequently
  • drifting from your lane or missing your exit
  • not remembering the last few miles driven

Even if you don't feel obviously tired, you may not be safe: more than half of drivers involved in fatigue-related crashes said they felt no symptoms before falling asleep behind the wheel, AAA found.

For longer trips:

  • Sleep for at least seven hours
  • Travel at times when normally awake
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
  • Avoid heavy foods
  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment

The study is based on the analysis of 7,234 drivers involved in 4,571 crashes.

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