On average, there are nearly 328,000 drowsy driving accidents each year. Getting behind the wheel when you’ve had less than a full seven hours of sleep significantly increases your risk of getting into a car accident. Drivers who’ve gotten less than four hours of sleep increase their crash rate by 11.5 times. However, you can protect yourself, your family, and other drivers on the road by developing better sleep hygiene and taking action if you find yourself nodding off behind the wheel.
Sleep hygiene is all the habits in your life that affect your sleep. Here are six habits you can develop to improve the amount and quality of your sleep:
1. Participate in a regular exercise routine. Exercise strengthens your heart, muscles, and bones but it also makes you more tired in the evening. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, staying more active during the day can make a big difference. However, try to avoid strenuous exercise within four hours of your bedtime as the change in body temperature and release of endorphins could keep you awake.
2. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and regularly timed meals. Everything you eat during the day can affect the quality of your sleep. The body likes routine as it supports healthy circadian rhythms, which control your sleep-wake cycle. Eating regularly timed meals keeps your body on schedule throughout the day including at nighttime. Try to avoid eating heavy, high-fat foods, alcohol, or stimulants like caffeine within a few hours of bedtime to avoid insomnia or wakefulness during the night.
3. Keep a consistent bedtime. When you go to bed at the same time every day, your brain starts to release sleep-inducing hormones on a regular schedule. That makes it easier for you to fall and stay asleep.
4. Develop a bedtime routine. Sometimes getting your mind and body to wind down at night can be tough. A bedtime routine can train your brain to release sleep hormones at the same time each night. Try to include relaxing activities like a warm bath or reading a book (not on an e-reader or smartphone). If stress keeps you awake at night, you might consider doing a few minutes of meditation or yoga before bed to help release tension.
5. Rule out sleep disorders. If you often wake yourself snoring, it may be helpful to visit a doctor or sleep clinic to see if you have sleep apnea or another disorder that interferes with your ability to sleep.
6. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. The room should be dark, quiet, cool (somewhere between 60-68 degrees) when you’re sleeping. f you wake during the night or in the morning with a sore back or shoulder, you might need to find a new mattress or consider a mattress topper for extra comfort.
Most people have gotten drowsy while driving at some point. If you find yourself missing exits, losing time (as in you can’t remember the last few miles you’ve driven), drifting out of your lane, or struggling to keep your eyes open, you need to take action.
You can try drinking caffeine as it blocks some of the hormones that make you feel drowsy, but its effects will only last for a short time. Rolling down the window or turning on loud, upbeat music is another quick, but an often ineffective long-term solution. If you’re still struggling, it might be time to pull over in a safe area and take a short nap. A 15-30 minute nap can be enough to counteract the effects of sleep deprivation and allow you to safely drive to your destination.
Safe driving requires sweet dreams at night, so make sure that you’re well-rested before you get behind the wheel.