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Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Tired to Drive

Sleep foundation offers tips on staying alert behind the wheel

SATURDAY, June 13, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- You can help lower your odds of becoming an unfortunate highway statistic this summer by making sure you are rested before you hit the road, says the National Sleep Foundation.

A recent poll by the nonprofit organization found that 54 percent of Americans say they have driven drowsy at least once in the previous year, while more than one-quarter say they do so at least once a month.

"When Americans get behind the wheel, we hope they'll recognize warning signs for when they're too tired to drive," said David M. Cloud, the foundations chief executive officer, in a news release issued by his organization. "Understanding crucial warning signs and countermeasures are key to preventing sleep-related crashes."

Warning signs of sleepiness at the wheel include the obvious, such as frequent yawning, trouble keeping your head upright and the feeling of heavy eyelids or excessive blinking, but also can include trouble staying in your lane and being unable to recall the last few miles driven.

To help avoid a potentially fatal situation, the foundation recommends:

  • Getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep the night before a long drive.
  • Leave plenty of time to get to your destination. Avoid having to drive long stretches without a break or during a period of time when you would normally be sleeping.
  • Stop the car and take a break from behind the wheel every 100 miles or every two hours.
  • Don't drive alone. Take along a friend who can split the driving with you. When not driving, the other person can help keep lookout for warning signs of drowsiness in the driver.
  • Don't drink alcohol or take medication that could increase sleepiness or hamper your driving ability.

If you do start to feel sleepy, pull over to a safe place and take a 15- to 20-minute nap. Remember that while caffeine can help keep you awake, the liquid form in coffee or other drinks takes about 20 to 30 minutes to take effect, so having some before a short nap can give you a double boost.

More information

The National Sleep Foundation has more about drowsy driving.

SOURCE: National Sleep Foundation, news release, June 2009
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