Watch out! A zombie may be driving next to you. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates they cause 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries every year on American roads.
They are sleep deprived drivers. If you drive without enough sleep, you’ll be a zombie too, threatening yourself and others. You will believe you are wide awake. You won’t know it when your sleep deprived brain goes “off-line.” Your eyes will be open. You will think you are functioning normally.
The phenomenon is called “micro-sleep.” With your brain in micro sleep, depending on your speed, you could travel the length of a football field seeing nothing. A “micro- sleep” can last a few seconds, others, a minute or more. That’s enough time to run off the road, drift out of your lane, miss a curve, hit the car in front of you or cause a fatal accident.
The March 2015 edition of Reader’s Digest calls sleep deprivation a national epidemic. It likens sleep deprivation to smoking in the 1950s. Even doctors smoked back then. It took the Surgeon General and a massive public service campaign to make Americans understand the dangers of smoking.
Sleep deprivation is making Americans “fat, sick and stupid.” In a seven page article full of shocking revelations about the effects of sleep deprivation - drowsy driving, obesity and the increased risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia – the Reader’s Digest article quotes statistics from respected sources in support of that statement. They include The National Transportation Safety Board, The Centers for Disease Control, Harvard Medical School, The National Department of Transportation, Cornell University and the University of Rochester.
How much sleep does anyone need before they get behind the wheel? At least 8 hours. A 2014 study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates drowsy drivers are involved in 21% of fatal crashes, up from 16.5% in its 2010 study. According to Reader’s Digest, “…people who sleep six to seven hours are twice as likely to be involved in …a crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more, while people sleeping less than 5 hours increased their risk four to five times.“
Don’t get behind the wheel if you are yawning a lot. If you are driving and your head suddenly snaps up, it’s a sign you’ve been in a micro sleep. If you feel groggy, lethargic, foggy, don’t drive. Those are all signs that you are sleep deprived. If you drive on boring rural roads or monotonous freeways and Interstates at high rates of speed without enough sleep, you are more likely to nod off. If you don’t recall passing certain parts of a road you know well, you’ve been asleep at the wheel. Pull over.
A brief nap can put you safely back on the road. The life you save may be your own.