When we think about the risks of sleep deprivation, health concerns like heart disease and diabetes immediately come to mind. Unfortunately the consequences of sleep deprivation can be even more devastating, and occur more frequently than you may suspect. One of these consequences is motor vehicle accidents, especially among young drivers.
According to Kingman P. Strohl, MD, director of the Center for Sleep Disorders Research at Case Western Reserve University, “up to 20 percent of crashes that occur on monotonous roads can be attributed to sleepiness.” A recent study completed by the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia, shed light on the relationship between young, sleepy drivers and motor vehicle accidents. The researchers analyzed data from over 19,000 newly licensed drivers between the ages of 17 and 24.
They found that those who reported sleeping 6 or fewer hours per night had an increased risk for crash compared with those who slept for more than 6 hours. Specifically, less sleep on the weekend was associated with an increased risk for run-off-road crashes. In addition, car crashes among tired young drivers were more likely to occur between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.
These findings suggest that as a society, we need to take the consequences of sleep deprivation more seriously and better educate young people on the risks of sleepy driving. Young people are taught important messages about the dangers of drinking and driving. Why not address sleepiness in the same manner? Sleepiness behind the wheel is a societal problem that should be addressed by educators, health care providers and the government.
Here are a few tips for young drivers: If you know you’ll have a long or monotonous drive ahead of you, plan your sleep accordingly – most young adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night to function optimally. If you’re beginning to feel sleepy while on the road – get off the road! Take a break, take in some fresh air, or consider checking into a hotel for a snooze. If it’s an option, share the driving or ask someone to take over the wheel for you. Let’s stay alert to the consequences a sleep deprivation.