|This here be Kevin Kulp|
After I posted about drowsy driving, my friend, Kevin Kulp who spent some time doing in services for shift workers about staying awake, posted an incredible set of tips.
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Here are his tips about driving sleepy.
Thank you Kevin!
So, considering that my "real" job was as a sleep and alertness expert (I designed shift schedules for round-the-clock companies), I thought it was worth mentioning a few things about sleepy driving. With luck, maybe I can save someone from having an accident.
For people driving on short sleep:
1. Most people need 8 hours of sleep to be well-rested. When you're getting less than that (as most people do), you're far more likely to suffer from something called "microsleeps." The less sleep you've had, the more likely it is that you'll experience these.
2. Microsleeps are periods when a wave of sleep washes over you, for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Often times, you may not even realize that you've been technically asleep; these can happen while your eyes are open. Don't remember the last five minutes of your drive, or your attention is wandering to things that aren't the road? You're suffering from microsleeps.
3. At these times, your reaction time absolutely sucks. If you're on a flat straight empty road, you'll hopefully be okay. If the guy in front of you hits his brakes, though, you'll never be able to react in time. It's incredibly dangerous.
4. When you feel this starting to happen, pull the car over off the road and take a ten minute nap. Cold air, a blasting radio - these provide only momentary (and miniscule) boosts to your alertness. A short "power nap" is the only thing that will raise your alertness in the short term. Ten or fifteen minutes of shuteye will help you stay awake for the next 1-2 hours. Even caffeine isn't a great solution, although it can help in the short run. If you're falling asleep during a game, a 5 minute break with your eyes closed can help, as well.
5. Remember, sleepiness comes in waves; you may be fine, then 20 minutes later you're ready to keel over. Sleep-related accidents are much more likely to occur with folks who have been up all night, then who drive farther than 20 minutes. The presence of daylight helps a great deal with your alertness, which is why the vast majority of fatigue-related accidents happen between 1am to 6 am, especially right around dawn.
6. Regarding reaction time and the ability to reason logically - studies have shown that after 20 hours without sleep (assuming a morning wake-up time), your performance is equivalent to someone with a .08 blood alcohol level. After 24 hours with no sleep, performance and mental acuity is equivalent to .10 - legally drunk. See, there's a reason you make stupid decisions when tired! And you don't want to know about how you do when you're tired AND drunk. If you're sleep-deprived, keep this in mind when thinking about what you're doing, especially if you have to drive.
7. Short naps (10-15 minutes, 20 minutes max) are great for short-term alertness boosts. Long naps (2-3 hours) are even better; they give you restorative sleep and can keep you going another 6-10 hours. Stay away from 1-hour naps. Due to the way your sleep patterns run, a 1-hour nap will often leave you feeling groggy and tired, when a shorter or longer nap will not. Neat, huh?
8. The amount of alertness you gain after 5 hours of sleep is significantly higher than the amount you gain after 4 hours. If you have a choice, you'll be a lot happier with that extra hour.
9. More than 3 cups of coffee (or doses of caffeine) doesn't make you any more alert; it just makes you more anxious, irritable and prone to stress. Keep your coffee intake spaced out, don't overdue it, and remember that caffeine stays really active in your body for roughly four hours after drinking it. If you try to sleep when caffeinated, your sleep quality will stink; for that reason, try to time your caffeine intake so that you stop drinking caffeine 3-4 hours before your anticipated bedtime.
There a ton more information that may help, but this is a decent fast primer. Be aware of your drowsiness when driving, and watch out for that mental sluggishness - recognizing it in time may be the best thing you can do.