Planning ahead before driving will help you reduce your risk of drowsy driving. Get adequate sleep the night before. Try to travel long distances with a companion who can take turns driving and can help you stay alert with some good conversation. Plan enough time so you can take plenty of breaks – at least every 2 hours or 100 miles on long trips. Avoid alcohol and sedating medications while driving.
While you are driving if you are yawning, constantly blinking, or find your head nodding those are signs that you are drowsy. Mentally you may not remember driving the last few miles, you may feel irritable, or experience wandering, dream-like thoughts. You may drift in your lane or even hit the side rumble strip.
If you experience any of these symptoms Stop and Rest! Even a twenty minute nap can hold drowsiness off for a while. You can also use the alerting effects of caffeine. A good plan is to pull over, drink a caffeinated drink and take a 20 minute nap. Because it takes about 30 minutes to feel the effects of caffeine this plan will provide the benefits of both the nap and caffeine. (Be aware that caffeine is less effective in people who regularly drink a lot of it).
Although it is just the end of October, soon the winter holidays will be in full swing. Let’s help make this a happy holiday season for everyone by getting enough sleep to be a safe driver, and making other arrangements when those holiday festivities cut our sleep short!
Have you heard the buzz about drowsy driving? Sleep experts are now estimating that drowsy driving accounts for over 100,000 accidents each year, and causes 1550 deaths! The number of fatigue-related accidents may actually be much higher than this estimate because is it so difficult to detect. Fatigue-related accidents usually occur with a driver who is alone, driving at night, during the mid-afternoon lull, or at another time they are usually asleep. As opposed to a drunk driver, the drowsy driver will not swerve, apply the brakes or take any action to avoid the accident. They can’t, because they are asleep!
In 2005 the National Sleep Foundation conducted a large poll about drowsy driving. 60% of drivers said they had driven while drowsy, and an amazing 37% admitted to falling asleep at the wheel in the last year. Personally, these are alarming statistics to remember whenever I get on the road.
You are at risk if you have been awake for greater than 16 or 17 hours, are chronically sleep deprived, or have had a sleepless night. If you have an untreated sleep disorder such as sleep apnea you are also at risk. Some groups are more at risk than others, including men aged 25 and younger, shift workers, commercial drivers, business travelers, those who drive at night, and anyone who has worked 60 hours in a week.
Next Monday’s blog post will be filled with strategies to avoid drowsy driving, so check back then.
Many people in my sleep clinic report lying in bed unable to sleep, having insomnia. This happens either at the beginning or middle of the night. For people who are thinking a lot, the Gratitude Meditation from last week can be helpful.
Another technique to help you fall asleep is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. I recommend this for the people who report tossing and turning in bed. The benefit of Progressive Muscle Relaxation is that it both occupies the mind and relaxes the body. Below are the instructions, you can use this natural technique whatever time you are awake in bed.
- Starting with your toes, tighten a muscle group for a count of 8, then relax it fully, allowing those muscles to feel heavy and sink into the bed.
- Focus your mind on clenching your muscles and slowly counting. Gently turn away other thoughts.
- Next, slowly move up to the next muscle group, your calves. Repeat.
- Continue moving up your body through legs, abdomen, bottom, hands, arms, back, jaw, face.
- Be sure to continue breathing regularly during this practice.
People regularly find that they are asleep before they complete the entire sequence.
On Thursday after my presentation a woman shared with me her lovely gratitude practice that she uses to go to sleep. I wanted to share it with you.
Each night after getting into bed she does this meditation until she is asleep. One by one, she slowly thinks of each person in her life, and thanks them for the ways they have helped her.
Research has been done recently on the practice of gratitude and how it affects health. Gratitude strengthens the immune system, decreases heart disease risk, and motivates you to take good care of yourself by exercising and getting regular check-ups. This emerging field is called ‘postive psychology.’
In my clinic, many people describe lying in bed at night worrying, thinking about their ‘to-do’ list or otherwise problem solving. These thoughts are stressful, and prevent them from sleeping. Doing this gratitude meditation can be a better way to engage your mind that is actually sleep-promoting. If you are stuck thinking in the night, try this and let me know how it works!