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Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital Sleep Expert Says There’s an Easy Solution to Not Falling Asleep at the Wheel

December 23, 2014

You can feel justified settling in for that long winter’s nap before getting behind the wheel to drive out of town for the holidays.

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll, 60 percent of adult drivers – about 168 million people – said they had driven while feeling drowsy. Thirty-seven percent said they had actually fallen asleep at the wheel. Four percent admitted they had an accident or near accident because they dozed off.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. These figures are conservative as it is difficult to attribute crashes to falling asleep at the wheel.

Oscar Schwartz, MD, medical director of the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital Sleep Disorders and EEG Center, and member of BJC Medical Group says drowsiness is similar to alcohol in the way it compromises driving ability by reducing alertness and attentiveness, delaying reaction times, and hindering decision-making skills.

“If you feel a need to close your eyes, or have trouble concentrating and focusing on what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be driving,” Dr. Schwartz says. “The solution is easy – sleep. Take a nap prior to driving. If you are driving and start to feel drowsy, pull off the road into a safe location, turn off the car and get some sleep. It’s not a good idea to try to fight off sleepiness.”

Whether or not you’re driving, Dr. Schwartz says sleep is essential for good health, safety and optimal performance.  Everyone should make it a daily priority to get enough sleep. “We look at sleep differently than other countries,” Dr. Schwartz says. “In other countries sleep is a priority, but in American, our activities take priority and then we try to fit in sleep. “Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.”

Who is Most Likely to Drive Drowsy (According to the National Sleep Foundation)

  • Adults between the ages of 18 and 29
  • Men are more likely than women
  • Adults with children in the household
  • Shift workers  -“It’s not the work,” Dr. Schwartz says. “It’s what you do before the work. Don’t start your shift sleep deprived.”
  • People with undiagnosed sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and acute insomnia
  • Alcohol consumption and some medication also can make you more likely to drive drowsy

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Schwartz or at the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital Sleep Disorders and EEG Center, call 314.542.WEST (9378) or 1.844.542.9378.

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