Written by Ummulwara Qasim
You had a late night due to studying for that midterm or working on that project, but you have a bright and early day the next morning, and need to get to school or work. You’re driving but you can barely keep your eyes open, but that’s okay because at least you’re awake, right?
The truth is, driving drowsy can be just as likely to cause a car accident as driving drunk . Handling a motor vehicle while sleep deprived can cause just as much as an impairment as you would be if you were intoxicated with alcohol . But what is a sleep-deprived state? Are you considered sleep-deprived if you need to snooze those alarms? Being sleep-deprived means not only are you lacking in an adequate amount of enough sleep but you also do not sleep well enough to get the various types of sleep your body needs in order to properly function . Feeling sleepy the next day is only one of many symptoms from a lack of proper sleep, the most dangerous arguably being your lack of the ability to focus or pay attention.
The brain can lose cognitive function due to sleep deprivation, especially slowing down tasks that require logic and reasoning . Your body becomes sluggish in processing the information presented, which can impede the ability to make logical decisions. When driving, having the focus and attention to make safe decisions is very important, and the sleep-deprived brain can have an issue of doing such. Being able to maintain the proper speed or having an aligned road position in the lane can all become impaired . Swerving and speeding; sound familiar? These are familiar traits of drunk-driving, but they can also be found among sleep-deprived drivers . Pulling an all-nighter can mean that your 24 hours of wakefulness has your brain is in a greater state than a brain at the legal blood alcohol level . Wakefulness for 18 hours straight already brings you to a state of a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, with 0.08% being the legal limit [6,7]. Being awake for 24 hours straight (also known as an “all-nighter” in college terms) is similar to 0.10% blood alcohol level which is beyond legally impaired [6,7]. This could very well mean that if you decide to drive the next morning, you are “drunk driving” with the same or even greater magnitude of risk.
But the day must go on, and you still have to do your work or go to school. Public awareness activities have laid out different safety policies in order to prevent the severe injuries and car accidents by recommending that rest breaks be taken during long commutes for those who are sleep-deprived . There are automatic sleep-warning devices that can be installed in your vehicle. Napping and having a quick cup of caffeine can be temporary fix to your droopy eyes. More realistically, if possible you should request to have someone else drive you like a family member, friend, or possibly take a transportation service. Maybe you would prefer to save some money or time and drive yourself, but the risks can be far greater and putting your life and those around as a priority for safety is very important.