How many of us have driven whilst tired? That big yawn on the morning commute, that mid-afternoon trip to the shops or late-night journey home from the airport… yet did you know that up to 20% of accidents on motorways and other monotonous road types may be caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel?
Modern lifestyles such as early morning starts, shift work and late-night socialising, often lead to excessive tiredness by preventing adequate rest. Yet just like eating well and exercising, good sleep is essential for our well-being.
Falling asleep at the wheel is not an excuse in law so we need to take notice of the warning signs our bodies give us and the knowledge we have of situations before they occur and build our driving plan accordingly, whether that’s avoiding driving at that time, breaking the journey down or taking someone with us to share the driving on a long journey. This advance information includes:
Natural sleepiness/tiredness occurs after eating a large meal – ever fallen asleep on the sofa after a big Sunday or Christmas lunch?
Also, we all have natural changes in body rhythm that produce a natural increased tendency to sleep at two parts of the day:
• midnight to 6am
• 2pm to 4pm
In particular, gov.uk states that 18 to 30 year old males are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel when driving late at night (that midnight to 6am slot).
Taking prescribed or over-the-counter medication which can cause sleepiness as a side effect (cold medications are perhaps the best known for this, and it’s NOT just the night time ones. Another example is hay fever medications but these are NOT the only ones). ALWAYS check the label of any medications you take if you intend to drive.
Whilst mixing drinking with driving is never recommended, research suggests that alcohol consumed in the afternoon may be TWICE as potent in terms of producing sleepiness and driving impairment as the same amount taken in the evening, so even if you think you are under the legal limit you might STILL NOT be safe to drive.
Although all drivers are subject to the pressures of modern life, many drivers are unaware that some medical conditions also cause excessive sleepiness/tiredness. For example:
• Sleep apnoea is the most common sleep related medical disorder. It is often accompanied by tiredness and significantly increases the risk of traffic accidents.
• Illnesses of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), motor neurone disease (MND) and narcolepsy may also cause excessive sleepiness/tiredness.
• Tiredness or excessive sleepiness can be a non-specific symptom of Parkinson’s disease, MS and MND.
• Narcolepsy also causes sleepiness/tiredness during waking hours as well as other symptoms that may be disabling for drivers.
More information on
sleep and driving is available at Excessive sleepiness and driving - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk),
sleep and tiredness Sleep and tiredness - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
and world sleep day World Sleep Day March 18, 2022.