Drowsy Driving


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study about drowsy driving. One in twenty four adults admit to nodding off while driving.  Health officials believe that this number is actually higher as some people don’t realized they nod off for a second or two behind the wheel. The study found about four percent of U.S. adults said they nodded off or fell asleep at least once while driving the previous month.  The CDC researchers found driving drowsy was more common in men, adults ages 25-34 and those who averaged less than six hours of sleep a night.  The government estimates that three percent of fatal traffic crashes involve drowsy drivers.  Brief nodding can be extremely dangerous. If a person is driving at 60 miles per hour, a second translates to speeding along for 88 feet (the length of two school buses).  Warning signs of drowsy driving include feeling very tired, not remembering the last mile or two or drifting onto rumble strips on the side of the road. These warning signs mean the driver should get off the road and rest.  To prevent drowsy driving people should get 7-9 hours of sleep a night, treat any sleep disorder and do not drink alcohol before driving (Stobbe, 2013).


Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2.5% of fatal motor vehicle crashes (approximately 730 in 2009) and 2.0% of all crashes with nonfatal injuries (approximately 30,000 in 2009) involve drowsy driving.  According to the CDC study:  reports of falling asleep while driving were more common among adults who reported usually sleeping less than 6 hours per night, snoring, or unintentionally falling asleep during the day compared with other adults who did not report these characteristics (Wheaton, Chapman, Presley-Cantrell, & Croft, 2013).


Drowsy driving can be related to obstructive sleep apnea.  Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your throat muscles intermittently relax and block your airway during sleep. The most noticeable sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring, although some people who have obstructive sleep apnea do not have perceivable symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring
  • Observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Difficult-to-control high blood pressure

When to see a doctor
Consult a medical professional if you experience, or if your partner observes the following:

  • If you or your bed partner suspect a diagnosis of OSA
  • Snoring loud enough to disturb your sleep or that of others
  • Shortness of breath that awakens you from sleep
  • Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness, which may cause you to fall asleep while you’re working, watching television or even driving a vehicle (Mayo Clinic, 2013).


If you are interested in more on the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea: Contact the Sleep Institute of New England at 603-347-8810 or check our website at www.sleepne.com for an appointment.


Mayo Clinic (2013). Obstructive sleep apnea.  Retrieved from


Stobbem M. (2013). CDC: 1 in 24 admit nodding off while driving. ABC News. Retrieved from


Wheaton, A. G., Chapman, D. P., Presley-Cantrell, L.R. & Croft, J. B. (2013).  Drowsy driving-

19 states and the District of Columbia, 2009-2010. CDC. Retrieved from


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