Most people are well aware of the risks of drinking and driving, but driving when you feel sleepy can be just as dangerous. In fact, research shows that even moderate sleep deprivation affects driving performance to the same degree as low-level alcohol intoxication.

And it doesn’t just affect lorry drivers or travelling sales people – anyone can feel sleepy on the road. You don’t need to completely fall asleep to cause an accident. Tiredness impacts on your driving ability, reaction times (being able to brake quickly), judgement (how sharp a bend is), and causes poor concentration which can increase your chances of crashing.

You need to be fully alert and aware of what’s going on around you when driving so, if you notice any of these signs, then you are too sleepy to drive:

  • Trouble focusing
  • Drifting across lanes
  • Struggling to recall driving
  • Fixating on, and driving towards, lights on the road at night

What can you do

  • It’s important to get a good night’s sleep before attempting a long drive.
  • Don’t begin a long journey if you’re tired.
  • If you’re driving a long distance, plan your trip and take regular breaks (around every two hours)
  • Avoid driving in the early hours of the morning around 4am and after the post-lunch energy dip between 2 and 4pm. This is when sleep-related motoring crashes are most likely to occur.
  • If you start to feel drowsy on your journey, pull over when it’s safe and legal to do so and take a power nap or get 20 minutes rest. Make sure you don’t set off as soon as you’ve woken, as you need to become fully alert again before you can drive.
  • Stay hydrated and avoid high-carb and sugary snacks that result in an energy slump

How to get a good night’s sleep

While it’s important to get a good night’s sleep before a long drive, it’s essential you prioritise sleep as part of your overall health and wellbeing and to avoid long-term fatigue.

We need sleep to function – both physically and mentally. Sleep regulates your mood, improves your memory but also maintains health, weight and energy levels. Getting just one bad night’s sleep can impact how we feel the following day.

Key to achieving a good night’s sleep is:

  • Keeping regular hours. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time, all the time, will programme your body to sleep better.
  • You should aim to get into a relaxing routine before bedtime – switch off electronic devices (including the TV) an hour before bedtime and do something more calming like reading a book, listening to soothing music or even meditating.
  • Ensure your bedroom environment is restful and promotes good sleep. It should be cool, quiet and dark, free of clutter and gadgets and have a comfortable supportive bed to sleep on.
  • Don’t over-indulge. Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, just before bedtime, can play havoc with sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but will interrupt your sleep later on in the night.
  • Take more exercise. Regular, moderate exercise such as swimming or walking can help relieve the day’s stresses and strains. But not too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake!
  • Try to relax before going to bed. Switch off screens an hour before bedtime and instead have a warm bath, listen to some quiet music, do some yoga – all help to relax both the mind and body.