07 July 2014

Sleep Hygiene Tip of the Week || Keep a sleep diary and track your ZZZs

Comedian Tracy Morgan in 2009,
photo by David Shankbone.
You have probably heard about the recent vehicular crash along the Jersey Turnpike which critically injured comedian Tracy Morgan, put two of his friends in the hospital, and took the life of his fellow comedian, James "Uncle Jimmy Mack" McNair. What you might not know is that the accident may have been caused by a drowsy driver. 

Morgan's limousine bus was struck from behind by a truck whose driver allegedly failed to notice the slowed traffic in front of him. Investigations into the accident suggest he may not having slept at all for more than 24 hours prior to the time of the accident. The truck driver has been charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto and his bail was set at $50,000.

How does drowsy driving happen? It's simple. If you don't get enough sleep every night, you generate a "debt of lost sleep" over time which can lead to cumulative cognitive problems that can be compared to the same kinds of impairments affecting people who are legally drunk. Ironically, driving drowsy, in New Jersey, is considered a crime comparable to drunk driving.

Drowsy driving can happen to anybody... including you. People who are at higher risk for drowsy driving include teenagers, new parents, the elderly... anybody who doesn't get their full night's rest, night after night.

If you have a relatively normal sleep schedule, you can suffer from sleep deprivation (aka insufficient sleep) by simply not getting solid sleep at night. This can increase the likelihood that you will drive drowsy.

However, if you have an unusual work or life schedule, in which you find it difficult to find and stay in a reliable sleep pattern, such as what can happen with 9-1-1 dispatchers, long-haul truck drivers and nurses on rotation, your risks for sleep deprivation increase dramatically.

SLEEP HYGIENE TIP OF THE WEEK: If you find you are sleepy during the day, while at work or in your car, it could be useful and illuminating to keep a sleep diary, noting bed and rise times each day and any naps, periods of insomnia or other pertinent information to help you better understand your sleep habits. Generally speaking, most human beings need slightly longer than 8 hours of sleep per night, every night of the week. If, after keeping your sleep diary for a full two weeks, you find your amounts of sleep don't add up to 50-60 hours per week, this should give you pause to consider how you might be accumulating an undesirable amount of sleep debt.

You might then be able to sneak in added sleep via naps or earlier bed times or later rise times in order to recuperate your lost sleep. By doing so, you can avoid the very serious consequence of drowsy driving as described here, as well as other long-term cognitive problems that can arise from chronic sleep deprivation.