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You Are Getting Sleepy… Very, Very Sleepy

tired driverIt’s about that time of year when a number of states start getting into Daylight Savings mode (New Zealanders did the change last weekend).  This peculiar hangover from Victorian England often leads to an increase in traffic accidents as the entire country (minus those sensible, sensible states that don’t bother with the whole palaver) goes through jet lag. Especially the springtime changeover where you have to get up an hour earlier than usual.

There has been some research into how the Daylight Savings changeover affects traffic responses.   found that accidents immediately after the springtime shift but accidents drop immediately after the autumn shift when the clocks go back.  According to these researchers, it’s the amount of sleep lost or gained that causes the change in patterns.  We tend to lose an hour of sleep during the spring shift but we get that precious extra hour to sleep in come autumn.  The researchers concluded that it’s fatigue and lack of sleep that causes the problem, not merely shifting our body clocks.

It’s not that people are falling asleep at the wheel, either.  Analysts and experts have commented that driving tired is as bad as driving drunk or under the influence of drugs when it comes to slowing your reaction times and preventing you from concentrating.  Unfortunately, the cops can’t do random breath testing to see how tired you are. Or perhaps fortunately – most of us don’t get the right amount of sleep.

Some car manufacturers are cottoning onto the role of fatigue in traffic safety.  Some of the latest models of Mercedes are able to tell by your driving style that you are getting a bit tired and will start alerting you.  This is all very well when it comes to getting tired during a long interstate drive when the white lines flickering through the darkness in a steady rhythm on a long straight road have their hypnotic effect on you, gradually lulling you into la-la land until the car bleeps at you suddenly.  However, it’s not so good for those times when you lose concentration for half a second at the traffic lights or at an intersection… although a lot of modern cars have fancy crash sensors that will detect this sort of low-speed problem and try to deal with it.

So what can we all do to improve our driving and reduce fatigue-related accidents?  We can’t all shift to Queensland or Western Australia where they don’t do the Daylight Savings thing.  And even in those states, fatigue-related accidents are still a problem.  The answer is not to be found inside our vehicles but inside our bedrooms.  If we all got the sleep we needed, we could probably avoid 20–30% of current accidents (according to the Transport Accident Commission ).

  • Have a set bedtime routine and stick to it. This programmes your body into knowing that it’s time to go to sleep.
  • Avoid “screen time” (TV, DVDs, laptops, smart phones) for half an hour before you plan on nodding off.  There’s something about those screens that stop you nodding off.
  • Go for calming, soothing activities as part of your wind down. In other words, don’t try doing your tax returns or drafting a letter to your lawyer last thing at night.
  • Watch the caffeine.  Yes, it helps jolt you up in the morning but it has quite a long half-life in your body, preventing good sleep.  It’s best to avoid coffee and other caffeinated drinks after 3:00 p.m. just in case.  It’s also unwise to try to use coffee to keep you awake if you are doing a long, late drive.  It will work in the short-term, but you end up with a horrible cocktail of fatigue chemicals and adrenaline in your brain at the same time that makes you even more error-prone.
  • Save the bedroom for sleep, relaxing and sex. This means that having the home office in there permanently is a bad idea.

Safe and happy driving,