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Drowsy Driving and the Time Change: 5 FAQs on Preventing Crashes

The transition every fall from Daylight Saving Time back to Standard Time is always difficult.

Having to change your clocks isn't the issue; if you have a smartphone, it will update itself.

No, the problem is that disrupted sleep schedules that follow the time change can lead to a spike in drowsy-driving crashes. Losing an hour of daylight during after-work commute time doesn't help either.

In this post we'll use a Q & A format to discuss how to prevent drowsy driving crashes, during time transitions and all year round.

How much sleep is needed to be well rested?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, adults generally need at least seven hours in a 24-hour period. Teenagers need even more, at least eight hours.

Unfortunately, modern America is a sleep-deprived culture. The reasons for this are many, from the proliferation of electronic devices to the fact that millions of people suffer from untreated sleep disorders.

More than 1 in 3 adults aren't getting enough sleep - and this puts themselves and others at increased risk of crashes.

How does fatigue or lack of sleep affect driving?

When a driver is fatigued, it interferes with the ability to pay attention to the road and slows his or her reaction time. The effect is very similar to drunk driving.

Missing sleep causes crash risk to go up markedly. Missing even one or two hours of the recommended amount of rest causes the risk to nearly double.

The result is thousands of drowsy-driving accidents. Every year, there are 6,000 or more such accidents in the U.S.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family from a drowsy-driving accident?

You can't control the other driver. But there are things you can do to make sure you are sufficiently alert when you drive.

You can try to get enough rest. Try sticking to a sleep schedule, rising and retiring at about the same time every day. And if you suspect you have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, it makes sense to talk to a doctor and seek treatment if necessary.

If you do have to drive despite not being well rested, watch for signs of fatigue such as excessive yawning or drifting in your lane. If you notice such signs, look for a rest stop or somewhere else where you can take a brief nap.

What are states doing to prevent or punish drowsy drivers?

Tennessee is one of several states that have received grant money to create a public-awareness campaign to prevent crashes caused by fatigued driving. The money comes from the Governors Highway Safety Association and a nonprofit group called the National Road Safety Foundation.

States have flexibility on how they design these campaigns. They include posting signs in rest areas about signs of fatigue or running ads on social media or TV. As one State put it, the goal is for someone who is drowsy to crash on a couch rather than a road.

New York and Washington have even added criminal penalties for fatigued drivers who cause fatal accidents.

Can the time change have negative health effects, even if you avoid a car crash?

Yes. It isn't only car crashes that spike after the time change. Researchers have found that after the change to Daylight Savings Time in March, stroke and heart-attack rates go up. It could be that this relates to the struggles the body is having adjusting to the new time.

In our 24/7 culture, sleep-deprivation is a problem throughout the year. The twice-a-year time change, however, makes it worse and can increase the risk of problematic health conditions including depression, diabetes, and obesity, heart attacks, and strokes.

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