Drowsy Driving Causes Crashes

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
January 17, 2017

On five hours of sleep, a driver might as well be a little drunk.  

You’re a danger on the road when you’re not rested. 

According to research from the American Automobile Association, 13 percent of crashes that put someone in the hospital, and 21 percent of fatal crashes, involve a drowsy driver.

You might think that you don’t need seven hours of sleep, the minimum recommended for healthy adults. More than a third of American adults don’t get that much, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, and as many as 12 percent say that they usually sleep fewer than five hours. 

But even if you’re used to living with insomnia or long work days, your response time is probably slower than it should be. Statistics tell the story: Drivers who report routinely sleeping four or five hours a day have 5.4 times the crash rate of people for whom seven hours is normal. Driving on that much sleep is similar to getting behind the wheel when you’ve at the max, or slightly above, the alcohol limit.  


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Sad to say, you’re a danger on the road even after one bad or short night. Do yourself and any passengers and people in cars a big favor and, if at all possible, don’t drive. You wouldn’t drive if you’d been drinking, and this is the same kind of problem. 

Let’s say you normally sleep from 11 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., but one night you wake up at 3:30 a.m. and go straight to the computer to catch up on work. If you drive to the office before sleeping any more, your chances of a crash have tripled. If you went to bed at midnight and woke up at 3 a.m., your chances of a crash are more than ten times as high as usual. 

The data analyzed for this research did not include crashes that occurred between midnight and 6 a.m., when they’re even more likely. 

The gist: Anyone who has slept fewer than seven hours in the past 24 hours, or missed even an hour of her usual sleep time, is at greater risk of a car crash. 

There are two steps you can take. Line up other options — public transportation, a ride, or working from home — and use them whenever you’re short of sleep. If you think about it in advance, you’ll know what to do on that sleepy morning. 

Sometimes people opt against public transportation and drive more during rough periods, thinking they’ll have more flexibility and possibly more sleep. But if you’re already sleep deprived, you don’t want to be on the road. Nap on a train or bus ride, and you’ll be healthier and safer. 

Also get serious about getting enough sleep. Maybe your mother is in rehab, and you’re visiting her after work. Don’t feel guilty about leaving early enough to sleep a full night. Some people know what they could change, but decide that sleep is a luxury. The truth is that sleep is a basic need: Lack of sleep increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, stroke, depression — and death.

Maybe you think you’re getting enough, at five or six hours. Ask yourself if you have any of the symptoms of sleep deprivation; you may need to talk to your doctor. 

Do you fall asleep quickly in a dark room? Do you crave fatty or sugary foods, or are you hungry all the time? Lack of sleep interferes with the hormones that control hunger and feeling full. Are you overweight? Besides pushing you to overeat, lack of sleep can slow your metabolism. Do you snap at people or make impulsive decisions? You’re too tired to exercise self-control. Are you becoming more forgetful or indecisive? Sleep is brain food. Are you clumsy? Moody? Are you the first person in the office to get a cold or flu or getting sick more often than usual? You might notice vision problems because you’re too tired to control the muscles of your eyes. Do you have acne or more wrinkles than you’d like? Your body produces collagen, the good stuff that keeps you looking young, while you sleep. That’s why they talk about “beauty rest.” 


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April 08, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN