News Release

December 15, 2005

Contact: Jane Shaskan, 860-679-4777

Fatal Detraction

Hints for Fighting Fatigue Behind the Wheel

FARMINGTON, CONN. – During the busy holiday season, more people are doing more driving, often covering longer distances with fewer hours of sleep. “Many drivers don’t make the connection between fatigue and the significant risk for a driving accident,” said Daniel McNally, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at UConn Health Center.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that drowsiness causes at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities annually in the U.S. “Driving sleepy isn’t much different than driving after a couple of cocktails,” said McNally. “Fatigue causes the senses and reaction time to be impaired, and the risk of dozing off at the wheel is very real,” he said. “An even worse circumstance is a drink or two combined with fatigue. That’s frightening.”

According to a AAA Foundation report, nine out of ten police officers in North America have stopped drivers they suspected of drunk driving only to discover the drivers were drowsy.

During the holiday season, with more tired drivers on the road, Dr. McNally and the National Sleep Foundation offer some tips to stay alert and be safe on the road.

Before you get behind the wheel:

  • Make it a priority to get enough sleep. Most adults need between seven to nine hours.
  • During long driving trips, be sure to schedule breaks – once every two hours.
  • Try to travel with someone and share the driving.
  • Avoid alcohol and medications that may make you drowsy.

On the road:

  • If you’re drowsy, pull off at the nearest exit or rest area and take a 15 to 20 minute nap, or take a nap after having a cup of coffee. It takes about 30 minutes for the caffeine kicks in.
  • The caffeine in two cups of coffee can increase alertness for a couple of hours or more, depending on the individual.
  • Don’t push it. On a long trip, a good night’s sleep might be the only answer to fatigue. Find accommodations for the night.

“As a sleep expert, I can say with confidence that nothing will make you feel as good, and as alert, as a good night’s sleep – any day of the year,” said Dr. McNally.

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