Fatigue can have deadly consequences on the road. Sleepy drivers cause nearly one in 10 crashes nationwide and drivers who skimp on sleep — getting just five hours of shuteye nightly — nearly double their risk of a crash, according to a report from the AAA Foundation.
However, studies show that people are not very good at gauging just how tired they are, notes the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. That's why it is particularly important for drivers to maintain good sleep habits and know what other steps to take to avoid drowsy driving.
Getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night is the single most important way to avoid fatigue behind the wheel.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers this advice to drivers on how to get a good night's sleep:
- Limit food intake approximately two hours before bedtime
- Don't use electronic devices right before trying to sleep
- Do not drink alcohol four to six hours before bed
- If you are a smoker, cut down on nicotine a few hours before sleeping as it is a stimulate and can interfere with sleep
- Exercise regularly as exercise improves sleep quality
- If you are having consistent trouble sleeping, see a doctor and get tested for sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia.
Once on the road, drivers should be aware of symptoms of drowsy driving. These include yawning repeatedly, drifting between lanes, daydreaming, head nodding, trouble keeping eyes open, and missing signage and exits.
Unfortunately, more than 50 percent of drivers involved in fatigue-related crashes experience no symptoms before they nod off. If you do experience any of these symptoms, the AAA says you should pull over immediately and do not get back behind the wheel until you feel more alert.
In addition to getting a good night's sleep regularly, experts offer the following strategies for staying awake and alert while driving:
- Take a break from driving every two hours or 100 miles
- Avoid heavy foods or medications that can make you drowsy
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
- Use caffeine as needed, but don't rely on it. The stimulant effects of caffeine last four to five hours.
- Pull off at a rest stop and take a 15-minute catnap.
To learn more about how to avoid fatigue behind the wheel, watch the video from cars.com.