There are as many reasons for sleep deprivation as there are Americans who suffer from it.
Some people wake up because of heartburn, backaches or arthritis pain. Others can't sleep because of stress, depression or anxiety. Some deal with sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. And others put in so many hours at work that there isn't time enough left for a good night's sleep.
Sleep experts advise adults to get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. But according to a poll by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the average American gets just six hours, 40 minutes of sleep each night. Almost half of those polled said they wake up feeling unrefreshed in the morning. As a result, sleep deprivation has become not just a health issue, but a safety problem as well.
According to NHTSA, sleepiness and fatigue can cause impaired reaction time, poor judgment and aggressive behaviors while driving. Young people, shift workers and those with certain sleep disorders are most at risk for falling asleep at the wheel.
Signs of driver fatigue
If you become drowsy while on the road, pull over and rest. Any of these signs can impair your driving performance:
- Trouble focusing, frequent blinking, heavy eyelids
- Daydreaming, disconnected thoughts
- Trouble remembering the last few miles driven, missing an exit
- Yawning, rubbing your eyes
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Drifting from your lane, tailgating, hitting a rumble strip
Change your routine
If trouble sleeping is causing you to feel tired or fall asleep at inappropriate times during the day, try changing your daily routine.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. Your circadian clock, which maintains your sleep-wake cycle, is made stronger by a regular sleep-wake time.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Take a warm bath, read a book or listen to soothing music.
- Create an environment conducive to sleep. Make your room dark, cool and quiet.
- Have a comfortable mattress and pillow.
- Remove anything unrelated to sleep from the room. That includes computers and televisions.
- Avoid eating meals in the two to three hours before bedtime. This can cause you to wake up during the night.
- Exercise regularly. Finish your workout at least a few hours before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine (if you are sensitive to its effects), alcohol and nicotine close to bedtime. These may keep you awake or disrupt sleep.
During the day
Wake up at the same time each morning and start the day with a nutritious breakfast. The effects of caffeine can linger for those who are sensitive to it, so limit caffeinated beverages to early in the day.
Exercise between lunch and dinner. Exercising late in the evening may keep you from feeling relaxed at bedtime. After dinner, do something relaxing. Then, have a light, healthy snack before following your regular bedtime routine.
See your doctor
If you have any physical problems that are keeping you from sleeping, or if you think you have a sleep disorder, see your doctor. Be prepared to discuss the following:
- If you snore, and how loudly
- If you've been told you gasp for breath or stop breathing in your sleep
- If you feel sleepy or fall asleep during the day
- If you've fallen asleep while driving or at work
- If you have difficulty falling or staying asleep
- If you wake up feeling tired and not rested
- The number of hours you sleep at night
- If you have a regular bedtime/wake-up time
- If you are taking sleeping pills
- If you use alcohol or smoke
- The times of day you exercise, use caffeine and eat your last meal
- If you experience nighttime heartburn, pain or the need to urinate
- If you've had recent lifestyle changes or been under stress
- If you work a night shift
Created on 08/12/2004
Updated on 07/12/2012
- National Sleep Foundation. Insomnia.
- National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke. Brain basics: Understanding sleep.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drowsy driving and automobile crashes.
- National Sleep Foundation. Longer work days leave Americans nodding off on the job.