Life is busy, and one of the first things in a schedule to go when things get hectic is sleep. Going without sleep is risky, however. A lack of sleep can wreak havoc on your body. It’s detrimental to your health, and it’s incredibly dangerous if you’re driving. Even short-term sleep deprivation can mimic the effects of alcohol on the body with potentially tragic consequences.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers who sleep one or two hours less than the recommended seven hours are at nearly twice the risk of getting into an accident. In 2017 alone, 795 people died in crashes caused by drowsy driving. You wouldn’t drive drunk, so don’t drive while you’re sleepy either. Make the safe choice and be sure to rest well before you drive. Otherwise, pull over to rest or call someone for help.
Here are eight ways that the effects of sleep deprivation can mirror the impairing effects of alcohol on your body, rendering you totally unprepared to be out on the road.
1. Slower Reaction Time
A lack of sleep slows down your reflexes and decreases your ability to react, just like alcohol does. To drive safely, you need to be alert and ready to turn or slow down at a moment’s notice.
2. Reduced Motor Skills
Severe sleep deprivation can cause you to get clumsy and lose some of your fine motor skills. You may find yourself fumbling with your wallet and keys, which may look like signs of drunkenness to a police officer.
3. Decreased Ability to Focus
Your attention span suffers significantly, whether you’ve been drinking or just staying up all night. An impaired attention span is a problem, as you need to be able to focus your full attention on the road and the vehicles around you.
4. Increased Impulsivity
It’s not uncommon for intoxicated people to make sudden, wild decisions and do unexpected things. Sleep deprivation similarly leads to impatience and increased impulsivity. Safety depends on drivers remaining calm and alert, while poor impulse control is a recipe for risky driving.
5. Memory Loss
Another surprising parallel between intoxication and sleep deprivation that comes with the lack of focus is forgetfulness. Extreme levels of alcohol can lead to complete memory blackouts However, even mild levels of alcohol can cause you to be unusually absent-minded and forget important things, like which highway exit you need to take.
6. Losing Consciousness
Both drunk driving and drowsy driving can lead drivers to pass out while driving, even if just briefly. If you’re driving and having a hard time keeping your eyes open, you may start experiencing short micro-naps, even for just a few seconds. You might not even be aware of it at first! When this happens, you absolutely need to pull over and rest.
7. Impaired Judgment
When you’ve gone without sleep, you’re not in your right mind anymore. Your average decision-making skills aren’t there, and you shouldn’t be making any serious life decisions, let alone driving, where you may need to make quick decisions for your safety and the well-being of others around you.
8. Lack of Balance
Many people are familiar with the famous “walking in a straight line” test. Going without sleep for a while can make you fail that test without even a drop of alcohol in your body. Sleep deprivation can affect your balance in just the same way. But even if you’re not drunk, you’re still not ready to drive safely, and you may still be eligible for criminal charges.
If you feel as though you’re too tired to drive, you probably are! Cancel your plans and get some sleep, if you can. It’s safer for you to do so, rather than risk falling asleep at the wheel.
If you can’t avoid driving, make sure you actively try to stay awake. Listen to loud music, drink something ice cold, eat something spicy, or simply talk to yourself or your passenger – and make sure you make it home safely!