'Short Sleepers' at Highest Risk for Drowsy Driving, Study Reveals

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tired LadyIn order to get the most out of every day and maintain a well-balanced lifestyle, health experts say that sleep is especially important and every effort should be made to get between seven and eight hours of rest each night.

As many polls suggest, few are able to achieve this ideal. In fact, some claim that they're able to get fine without much of a problem on as little as five to six hours of sleep.

But according to a recent study from the U.S.-based University of Pennsylvania, despite what these infrequent sleepers believe, they operate at a diminished capacity - particularly when it comes to driving.

New research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania indicates that so-called "short sleepers" are at an increased risk for getting into an accident compared to those who get the recommended out of sleep.

The report, which was published in the October issue of the medical journal "Accident Analysis and Prevention," found that those who get less than six hours per night are the most likely to experience drowsy driving, potentially increasing their risk for an accident, which may likely result in a car insurance claim.

Michael Gradner, the study's lead author and instructor in Psychiatry at the Ivy League University, pointed out that falling asleep is a significant contributor to how many crashes take place in the U.S. each year.

"It might even be more of a problem than drunk driving, since it is responsible for more serious crashes per year," said Gradner. "We already know that people who are sleep deprived in the laboratory have impaired driving performance, but we haven't been able to better define what sleep profiles and patterns put drivers in the general population at the highest risk."

Using data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, researchers determined that short sleepers were two times more likely to report feeling drowsy while driving versus individuals who got seven hours of sleep or more on a consistent basis. Those who reported sleeping five hours or less were close to four times more apt to feel drowsy while driving, which may involve nodding off or veering too far over the center line.

The sleeping problems of Americans are shared by many in Canada as well. According to the Canadian Sleep Society, drowsiness is the second most common cause of motor vehicle accidents in the country, the top one being alcohol use.

Though everyone is at risk for drowsy driving, some are more so than others, according to CSS:

  • People who report feeling sleepy all the time.

  • Men between the ages of 20 and 25.

  • Those who frequently drive on the highway, as long straightaways limit eye movement.

  • Individuals who work late at night or have rotating shifts.

  • People who have an undiagnosed sleeping disorder, such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea or insomnia.

Individuals who report feeling tired behind the wheel will often resort to various strategies to remain awake, such as rolling the windows down, singing loudly, turning up the volume on the radio and drinking a lot of caffeine from coffee or soft drinks. The CSS maintains, however, that these tactics rarely work.

The best defense against falling asleep behind the wheel is getting a minimum of seven to eight hours of rest per night. However, if sleepy driving behaviors present themselves - such as drifting too far to the right or left of the lane, nodding off or experiencing periods of "zoning out," - pull off to the side of the road in a safe area and rest for 20 to 30 minutes.