In states where Daylight Savings Time ends and millions of Americans have to turn their clocks back an hour, there’s good news and bad news. Some welcome getting an extra hour of sleep, although dreading the loss of it in the spring when DST returns. Others, however, have a tough time adjusting to the shift and wind up sleepless and out of sorts. But how does lack of sleep affect driving?
It’s not good, according to researchers. A study in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) shows that insomnia is a major contributing cause of death from motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional fatal injuries. Study findings are part of the AASM’s “Sleep Well, Be Well” project.
People with three symptoms of insomnia were almost three times more likely to die from a fatal injury than those with no insomnia symptoms. This is even after researches adjusted for alcohol and daily sleep medication use, considered confounders for insomnia.
What are the three symptoms of insomnia and which one resulted in the most fatal injuries? The three are difficulties in falling asleep, difficulties maintaining sleep, and having a feeling of nonrestorative sleep. Of the three, trouble falling asleep corresponded to an estimate of 34 percent of motor vehicle injuries.
Studies show that as many as 30 percent of adults suffer from insomnia. That equates to millions of sleep-deprived people and the unsettling potential for bleary-eyed drivers behind the wheel. Older adults, women, those under stress, and people with certain medical and mental health conditions are more prone to insomnia.
The AASM offers the following tips to help you avoid chronic sleep deprivation:
- Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
- Steer clear of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco before going to bed.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule throughout the week (no staying up later on weekends).
- If you still have trouble sleeping, seek professional help.
Other researchers offer a few additional suggestions for getting a better night’s sleep.
- Skip any vigorous physical exercise four hours prior to bedtime.
- Create a wind-down routine.
- Avoid using laptops, tablets and cellphones before retiring. That’s because the blue light they emit interferes with sleep.
- Indulge in a warm bath two hours before you go to bed.
- Be careful of medications, especially sleep aids, because they can have side effects.
Getting sun exposure in the morning is also helpful to counteract the seasonal time change, say the experts. Take a walk to recharge and let the light in.
For more safe driving tips on how to stay alert behind the wheel, check out what the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has to say.
The full AASM study is available here.