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Sleep and Driving

Sleep & Driving

A growing public health concern in many countries is the number of traffic accidents attributable to sleepiness. Drowsiness has same level of impairment as driving under the influence of alcohol; and like alcohol consumption, people seldom perceive the degree of their own impairment. The best estimate is that roughly 25% of fatal accidents are caused by sleep debt. The cost to society of these tragedies is extraordinarily high.

A sleep-deprived individual may be able to avoid falling asleep behind the wheel, but motor coordination, reaction times and judgment are usually compromised significantly. A coffee jolt (or several) will offset sleepiness temporarily, but the safest approach is to stop the vehicle and take a nap.

Unfortunately there are no sleep-related counterparts to tests that measure blood alcohol levels. That’s why certain professions (professional drivers and airline pilots, to name a few) have regulations that limit operational hours. As well, some states go so far as to screen professional drivers for obstructive sleep apnea or hypopnea, a condition that causes daytime sleepiness.

The best approach for society seems to be ongoing education with repeating public warnings about the dangers of driving while drowsy.

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