Sleep is something we all need, but it is also something many of us take for granted. We have busy lives, so going to bed late and waking up early may be the norm in your household.  

Restful sleep helps our bodies regain the stamina we need to face the day and all the tasks we perform, including driving. How much sleep do we need each night? Everyone is different and there is no magic number, but the CDC recommends seven to eight hours for adults and nine to ten hours for teens.

Closer look

Just how much does sleep impact our ability to drive safely? According to the National Sleep Foundation, driving with five hours of sleep or less can increase crash risk by a factor of 4 to 5 times, and going without sleep for more than 18 hours can cause the same impairment as having a BAC of .08 percent, which is legally intoxicated. Parents with teen drivers need to be particularly mindful—studies show teens who sleep for less than eight hours are one-third more likely to crash than those who sleep eight or more hours.

In addition to making sure you get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel, the best way to avoid the dangers of drowsy driving is to plan ahead:

  • On long trips, when travelling with a companion, switch places as needed. Schedule rest stops regularly, especially when travelling alone.

  • Avoid alcohol and sedating medication (over-the-counter or prescription), which may amplify the effects of fatigue.

  • Some drivers have the experience of arriving at their destination with no recollection of how they got there. Know when to stop! Pull over and take an extended rest until you can safely resume your trip. If necessary, call a friend, loved one or even a cab to ensure you arrive at your destination.

Safety precautions

Drivers shouldn’t get behind the wheel if they’re tired. However, if a driver becomes drowsy behind the wheel, some new technologies in vehicles can warn them of potential problems. The drowsiness alert feature uses sensors to determine if a driver is drifting out of the center of the lane repeatedly in a short period of time and issues an alert to take a rest break. Newer versions of drowsiness alert features can even track the driver’s head and eyelid movements to detect drowsiness. MyCarDoesWhat.org has more information about this feature and a video explaining exactly how the safety technology works.

As helpful as technologies can be, drivers ultimately need to know when they are at their limit. Drowsiness, like alcohol or drugs, can impair our abilities, reaction time and judgment. When it comes to your safety and the safety of other drivers on the road, driving drowsy just isn’t worth it.