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Driving Tired Can Be as Bad as Driving Drunk

By Hoku Krueger ; Updated November 30, 2017

If you were at the wheel this morning after getting a less-than-ideal five hours of sleep, you were just as likely to cause a car crash as a drunk driver. Let that sink in. Missing just two to three hours of sleep quadruples your chances of getting into an accident.

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So the next time you think about getting behind the wheel after having just a few (hours of sleep), remember that you’re basically driving drunk.

A new report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit research and education organization, found that getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period gradually increases your chances of causing an accident. For example, while missing one to two hours of sleep doubles your risk of getting into a crash, missing two to three hours more than quadruples your chances, and sleeping and less than four hours increases your risk by an astonishing 11.5 times.

“You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel,” Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, says in an AAA press release. “Our new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.”

These findings are strongly relevant to the Americans, considering that more than a third of adults in the U.S. aren’t getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Not only does lack of sleep impair mental and physical performance, it’s also associated with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. And a lot of people don’t even realize that they’re regularly on the verge of passing the “eff” out.

Even though 97 percent of those surveyed thought drowsy driving was totally unacceptable and a serious threat to their safety, almost a third admitted that in the last month they drove at least once when “they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open,” AAA reports.

If you’re struggling to keep your eyes open, drifting from your lane or having a hard time remembering the last few miles driven while on the road, pull over and phone a friend or a taxi. But don’t wait to rely on these bodily signs — prepare ahead of time by turning off the podcast at a reasonable hour and get some shut-eye.

To help hit the lucky seven hours, try to keep your room dark, cool and quiet. Also, avoid looking at your TV or phone screens, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm, according to Elizabeth Ricanati, M.D. And while caffeine and alcohol will keep you up at night, decaffeinated tea and milk can help you float tranquilly into sweet slumber.

For longer drives, AAA recommends that you:

  • Travel at times when normally awake.
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles.
  • Avoid heavy foods.
  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving.
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment.

AAA gathered their data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Vehicle Crash Causation Survey. They analyzed a representative sample of 7,234 drivers involved in 4,571 crashes to draw their conclusions.

Now that you know your hours of sleep directly correlates to your (and others) safety, we’re hoping that’s more motivation to try and get your eight hours.

Related: 12 Foods to Help You Fall (and Stay!) Asleep

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