Do you know that every hour four people die on our roads in the USA? Have you ever fallen asleep driving? Do you find it difficult to stay awake driving during mid-afternoon? Here are a few tips that can save your life this weekend.
Please remember that turning on the radio, stretching your neck, putting a fan on high, putting your face out of window, slapping your face, or pushing a sharp pin in your thigh does not work.
- Certainly before a long trip, plan and get a good night’s sleep.
- Avoid driving from midnight to six o’clock in the morning.
- Be extra careful while driving around mid-afternoon.
- Do not drive after an overnight flight.
- Take a break at least every two hours.
- Take a power nap in anticipation of sleepiness.
- Remember that a cup of coffee can be lifesaving.
- Talk to your doctor if you have sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs, shift work sleep disorder, or narcolepsy symptoms.
- If your thoughts become dreamy, your eyelids feel heavy, or traffic signs do not mean much pull over. You are about to die!
About thirty-eight thousand people die on our roads each year in the USA. That is 4 preventable deaths every hour, mostly of people in their prime. By the time you finish reading this blog, one person would have died based on the National Highway Safety Administration data. Why does this happen? To explain this, I will share a story. On the very first day of my internship in this country, I did an initial evaluation of a female executive, who the paramedics had brought to the ER of Englewood Hospital Medical Center in Englewood, New Jersey. She was a restrained driver of a Volvo that ran off the road and into a tree on that cloudy afternoon on a drive back to her home in Englewood Cliffs from Newark Airport after a long transcontinental flight. Even though her car was totaled, she fortunately suffered only minor chest contusion. What struck me though was her answer when I asked her what had happened. “I just don’t know.”And that is the commonest answer I have heard during my twenty years of pulmonary practice while evaluating and treating survivors of motor vehicular accidents. I was baffled with that answer until I started my sleep medicine fellowship and learned about micro-sleeps and lack of situational awareness resulting from sleep deprivation.
Micro-sleeps are fatal. Micro sleeps, three to fourteen seconds of sleep activity seen on electroencephalographic recordings (brain waves) of awake individuals, cause uncontrollable sleep attacks without any warning in people with both acute and chronic sleep deprivation.
Loss of situational awareness kills, too. The other dangerous phenomenon seen in sleep-deprived leaders is the loss of situational awareness. With this deficit, the person loses awareness of the surrounding. Is the road ahead curving? Is there a reduced speed limit ahead? Is the car in the front braking? Are the driving conditions dangerous?
Beware of impaired decision-making too. When sleep deprived, your decision-making is impaired such that you may take a left turn when you would have waited. Or you may pass a truck on a curvy road, which you would not have done when rested. You may choose to text back while driving, which you would not have done if you were not sleep deprived.
Under our public awareness campaign, Stay Awake, Drive Safe, We do bulk emailing of above tips to colleges, high schools, hospitals, and companies a week before Thanksgiving, Forth of July, Christmas, and other major travel holidays. Please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to join that mailing list. Please write Stay Awake, Drive Safe in the subject line.
Do you have a story you can share? Have you dozed of while driving? What has your experience been? Which countermeasure works the best for you? How are you educating your kids and your coworkers about this? Take a moment to share so that we can learn from your experience and save a life.