This year, Daylight Saving Time (DST) begins Sunday, March 13. Statistics from the National Safety Council confirm that motor vehicle accidents increase in the days immediately following DST, when clocks are turned forward one hour – due in part to a lack of sleep.
Even if you have gotten a sufficient amount of sleep, there are plenty of other people on the road who may not have, so we strongly recommend that drivers use extra caution while working their shifts during that time.
Why is Spring Forward Dangerous?
DST changes sleep patterns. It takes time for us to adapt, causing people to get less sleep and leading to a spike in drowsy driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 50,000 injuries and close to 800 fatalities occur during the week following DST. A 10-year study in the American Economic Journal supports those findings, adding that it takes about six days for a return to normal. Researchers say sleep deprivation, compounded by the shifting ambient light increases the risk of a fatal car accident. One less hour of sleep contributes to a 46% increase in drowsy driving crashes.
Is Drowsy Driving the Same as Impaired Driving?
According to the National Safety Council (NSC) and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), drowsy driving affects people the same as impaired driving. A survey of U.S. adults showed that approximately 20% of drivers have fallen asleep behind the wheel and about 50% have gotten behind the wheel when they felt drowsy.
Studies show that going without sleep for more than 20 hours is very similar to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%. When a driver is fatigued or under the influence, their hazard awareness, ability to focus, and reaction time all suffer.
How to Tell if You’re Fatigued
You might not realize just how fatigued you are. Motorists sometimes experience “micro-sleep” – short periods of inattention that can last four to five seconds. That’s pretty scary, since your vehicle can travel the length of a football field in that time.
Signs of fatigued driving include drifting in and out of lanes, missing exists, not remembering the past few miles driven, repeatedly running off the road and frequent yawning and blinking. Also: If you are chronically tired, get checked for a sleep disorder and make sure none of the medications you take cause drowsiness.
Safety Tips for Spring Forward Driving
You should always aim for eight hours of sleep, but it can help to start going to bed an hour earlier for several nights before the time change. This will lessen sleep deprivation and help you adjust.
Since there will be more evening daylight, there will also be more bicyclists and pedestrians out and about, so be extra careful around them.
Sun glare can also be very strong during this time of year. Try to keep a pair of sunglasses handy and slow down if the sun makes it difficult to see the road.
DST and Its Effect on Our Sleep
We need a minimum of five hours of sleep for it to be considered “restorative.” According to the National Sleep Foundation, healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep to strengthen their immune systems and help prevent or limit infection and illness.
Covid-19 has also had a negative effect on our sleep patterns. Getting enough sleep before and after you are vaccinated can help them work better in your body.
Experts say the bedroom should only be used for sleeping and intimacy. They suggest waking up, making your bed, and maintaining a consistent wake and sleep pattern to help keep you on track, rather than laying in bed for extended periods.
If you nap, it is recommended you keep it to under 30 minutes. Napping longer than that confuses your body and affects your nighttime sleep. There is no such thing as “catching up” on sleep, so sticking to a schedule is best.
Common sleep-related health issues include excessive exhaustion, excessive nighttime thirst, morning headaches, narcolepsy, movement disorders, neurological disorders, and a narrowed airway. If you have any of these symptoms, consider getting evaluated by a sleep specialist. If you experience excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, or not feeling rested after waking up in the morning, contact your primary care provider. You may have a treatable underlying condition.