The Dangers of Falling Asleep Behind the Wheel

WEST ALLIS, WI, November 9, 2012 – The Sleep Wellness Institute is working locally to inform the public about the dangers and prevention of drowsy driving during Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, November 12-18. Drowsy Driving Prevention Week is a far-reaching public awareness campaign by the National Sleep Foundation developed to educate people about drowsy driving.  

Tragically, drowsy diving claims many lives and injures thousands of Americans each year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 100,000 police-reported crashes each year are the direct result of driver fatigue. Drowsy driving crashes result in at least 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses annually. In fact, half of Americans consistently report that they have driven drowsy and approximately 20% admit that they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel in the previous year.

Studies show that after 17 hours without sleep, driving performance impairment is equal to 0.05% blood alcohol content. After 24 hours, that impairment rises to 0.10% - legally drunk in every state. In the same study, people with mild to moderate untreated sleep apnea, performed worse behind the wheel than those with a 0.06% blood alcohol content.

How can you prevent drowsy driving? Dr. Don Harden, Medical Director at The Sleep Wellness Institute of West Allis, offers the following suggestions. “The first step is to get enough sleep. Most adults need 7-9 hours and most teens need 8.5-9.5 hours per night to maintain proper alertness during the day. On long trips, schedule proper breaks - about every 100 miles or 2 hours - and arrange for a travel companion to share the driving. Avoid alcohol and sedating medications when behind the wheel,” Harden continues.

Get healthy sleep, and learn to recognize sleep problems. Problems sleeping or daytime sleepiness can signal a sleep disorder or another medical condition. Talk to your doctor. 

“Even if you get enough sleep, it may not be healthy sleep. About 70 million people in the U.S. have a sleep problem. About 40-50 million adults suffer from a chronic sleep disorder; an additional 20-30 million have intermittent sleep-related problems related to stress, anxiety and depression,” Harden shares.

Untreated sleep disorders and poor sleep habits contribute to accidents, impaired work productivity and academic performance, reduced quality of life, poor health, and even death. Sleepiness, whether the result of untreated sleep disorders or volitional sleep deprivation, has been identified as a causal factor in a growing number of on-the-job accidents and highway automobile crashes.

Are you at risk for an untreated sleep disorder that could lead to drowsy driving? Visit The Sleep Wellness Institute website at sleepwell.org and take a free, comprehensive sleep apnea risk assessment or call 414-336-3000 to schedule an appointment with a sleep doctor today.

The Sleep Wellness Institute

The Sleep Wellness Institute specializes in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders. As Wisconsin’s only independent sleep disorders center fully accredited for adults and children by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, they treat all sleep disorders, with special expertise in diagnosing and treating obstructive sleep apnea. The 12-bed sleep center in West Allis and two bed sleep center in Mequon serve patients every day of the week. At The Sleep Wellness Institute, the goal is to help you find a better life through better sleep. For more information, visit www.sleepwell.org.

National Sleep Foundation

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF), established in 1990, is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, and by supporting education, sleep-related research and advocacy. NSF has been raising awareness about drowsy driving and fall-asleep crashes since 1993 through its Drive Alert...Arrive Alive® program. For more information visit www.sleepfoundation.org.