DWS (Driving While Sleepy)
As drivers, we’ve all felt the heaviness in our eyelids that means, “pull over,” and perhaps even scared ourselves because of an unintentional drift in our steering path.
Drowsy driving is no small problem: In the U.S. every day, a quarter-million folks fall asleep at the wheel, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Driving while sleepy” in the U.S factors into more than 100,000 crashes annually, with 1,500 deaths and 40,000 injuries. An astonishing 23 percent of adults have fallen asleep while driving, according to a 1998 survey.
But legal drugs are making the situation worse.
Asleep at the Wheel
An increase in car accidents has become associated with three prescription sleeping aids: temazepam (Restoril), zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR) and trazodone (Desyrel). This, according to a University of Washington School of Pharmacy and the Group Health Research Institute study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health. Ambien and Ambien CR users should be especially concerned, because they are more than twice as likely to have an accident, as compared to non-drug-users.
If you take any of these drugs, especially if you are a new user of them, you should be worried. Taking these sleep-aiding drugs can potentially double your risk of a vehicular accident, even after the side effects have faded. Your risk is the same as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level from 0.06 to 0.11 percent. Keep in mind that the threshold for being legally drunk in all 50 states is 0.08 percent!
While it is true that, if the pills are used routinely, the “hangover effect” often wears off (speculation is that people adjust or learn to compensate for the effects), these drugs are slow to leave the body. Because of this fact, the FDA has required women to take lower dosages (because women’s’ bodies process the drugs more slowly), and has strongly recommended that men take lower dosages as well.
Non-Drug Fixes for Insomnia
The first line of treatment for insomnia is generally not drug-based, but is instead something called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT involves talk therapy combined with behavioral changes that help your brain and body learn to sleep correctly again.
“There are many approaches to the management of insomnia, including lifestyle changes such as cutting caffeine intake and exercising, which may alleviate the insomnia without medications,” Ryan Hansen, UW assistant professor of pharmacy, said. “There’s a public safety concern that we want health providers and the general public to be aware of.”
If you take any of the drugs mentioned in this study, or often take any drug to help you sleep, you might want to consider alternative forms of therapy. Your risk of an accident when you are “driving while sleepy” is significant.
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