Every year, my schedule gets crazy the week(s) before Christmas. I do everything I can to plan for all the holiday stuff — shopping, events, gift wrapping, — in addition to my usual daily tasks. Inevitably, I find myself cutting into my precious sleep time at least the night (if not two or more nights) before I make the three-hour drive to my parents’ house for Christmas.
This year, I’m rethinking my habit.
A new study shows that driving while sleep-deprived has a significant negative effect on our ability to drive safely. Previous research has shown drowsy drivers contribute to 13 percent of all car crashes that result in hospital admission and 16 to 21 percent of all fatal car crashes.
In this study, drivers who slept for as little as two hours less than usual had three times the odds of contributing to a car crash.
Drivers who reported regularly sleeping for relatively few hours were at an even higher risk.
Those who normally sleep between four and five hours a night have 5.4 times the odds of contributing to a crash, the study shows. Compared with someone who usually sleeps for at least seven hours, this increased risk is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol level slightly above the legal limit of 0.08. Even worse: “The increase in crash rate associated with driving after less than four hours of sleep is much greater,” the study says.
I’m right there with the masses who lose sleep this time of year, but we can all completely avoid being drowsy drivers by simply maintaining healthy sleeping habits. I cannot stress the importance of this enough: Make time for yourself to get enough sleep this season and always. Sleep is so important for your safety, your family’s safety and your fellow drivers’ safety.
There are so many extra things going on this time of year, and it seems like the only way to make it all happen — short of skipping the holidays altogether — is to sleep less. But that may only make your situation worse. Find another way. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be cranky and functioning at a lower level trying to get more done the next day than you would if you had gotten enough sleep in the first place.
In contrast — I’m telling you this extremely cautiously optimistically — the study provides one reason to breathe easy. Drivers who reported having slept for up to one hour less than usual did not see an increased risk relative to drivers who slept the same amount as usual. Though I don’t encourage taking advantage of this little bit of wiggle room, I’m glad to know the cushion is there should it become absolutely necessary … for a serious emergency reason.
Please, please, please, for everyone’s safety, please try to continue to get enough sleep to function and drive safely. I know I will make sure I get plenty of sleep before making this year’s drive home for the holidays. —Megan