Several years ago I had a neighbor who worked odd hours. Sometimes she’d work in the day, sometimes leave for work at 4pm, and sometimes she’d be in her office for more than 24hrs. Our kitchen and dining room looked out onto her driveway and front door so we frequently saw her coming and going.
And thank goodness we could see her! Several times she pulled into her drive in the morning after being gone all night, and fell asleep right there in the car, with her head on the steering wheel and the engine running. We’d go and wake her when we noticed that the engine wasn’t turned off.
This is just one example of the dangers of drowsy driving. What would have happened if she’d fallen asleep on the road, or if nobody had been there to wake her up?
You can learn to handle shiftwork as well as possible. Here’s a few beginning steps:
- Educate your family or roommates about what you’ll need to sleep well. This includes quiet without interruptions during your sleep time, a dark and cool room, and as regular a schedule as possible. Sometimes family members are eager to see you and share their news. When setting a sleep schedule, also schedule a predictable time that you’ll be available to them.
- Make your sleep schedule as consistent as possible over the entire week.
- If possible, take a short nap during the middle of your shift. Be cautious to become fully alert before performing your job duties.
- Use caffeine strategically. Caffeine is more effective as a stimulant if you don’t use it much. During the night shift, take a serving of caffeine at the time when your alertness starts to dip. The caffeine will take effect in about 20 minutes, and does improve measures of performance. Be cautious not to take it so close to bedtime that it interferes with falling asleep.
- Limit light exposure on the commute home by taking public transit and wearing blue light blocking sunglasses.
With these strategies, shiftwork should be easier. A special thanks goes out to all those folks who work nights, keeping the rest of us safe.
The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine focuses on natural care for sleep problems, including shiftwork. More information is at www.naturalsleepmedicine.net.
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.
As an 11 year old child, I had a champion sleep walking event – let me tell you about it. Growing up in the Seattle suburbs, we lived in a one story rambler. We were friends with the neighbors, who were our age, and also lived in a rambler. One night, after having the flu, I walked down the long hall, out our front door, around the side of the house, up a 2’ rockery, and into the neighbors’ walk. From there I pulled the string to open the wooden gate, up the 6 stairs to their backdoor, in and through their house to the parents room. There I stood until they woke up, I woke after being walked to their kitchen, and my parents woke when the neighbors pounded on the door delivering me home.
Sleepwalking is a type of parasomnia. Sleepwalking typically does occur in children, and resolves as they go through puberty. Sleepwalking tends to run in families. As you can see from the story above, safety is a primary concern. If your child sleepwalks, you need to make sure that doors and windows are locked, stairs are safely blocked, and other hazards are contained. You can hang a bell over the door, so it will alert you when the child gets up. When someone is sleepwalking it is best to simply guide them back to bed gently.