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Shift work can increase your risk of drowsy driving

In the city that never sleeps, it may feel normal to be exhausted on your drive home from work, especially if you work the night shift. However, driving when you are extremely tired can risk your safety and the safety of others on the road.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 2017 about 91,000 crashes involved drowsy drivers, and these crashes lead to about 50,000 injuries and about 800 deaths. Drowsy driving is risky because you could fall asleep at the wheel, but it is also risky because sleep deprivation causes impaired reaction time and judgement. Although drowsy driving is usually caused when someone does not get enough sleep, shift workers may be especially vulnerable to drowsy driving collisions.

Why do shift workers have a greater risk of drowsy driving?

Shift workers have a greater risk of drowsy driving because shift work can require you to work in the early morning, late night or for extended hours, forcing you to be awake at times when your body is not naturally programmed to be awake. Drowsy driving collisions are most common between midnight and 6 a.m. and in the late afternoon. These times align with times that the body’s natural circadian rhythm dips, making drivers more tired.

How can I reduce my risk of causing drowsy driving crash?

If you must travel to or from work during these times, consider taking public transportation or a cab. You may also consider carpooling with a coworker. Having another person in the vehicle can help the driver stay awake and can provide an alternate driver if necessary.

If you must drive alone, be on the lookout for signs that you are to drowsy to drive. Some signs of extreme drowsiness, include:

  • Tailgating
  • Yawning often
  • Rubbing your eyes often
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Difficulty focusing

If you notice signs that you are too tired to drive safely, you should pull over somewhere safe. Try to consume some caffeine, then take a 20-minute nap before trying to finish your drive.

Although shift work can be disruptive to your sleep schedule, try to preserve the quality of sleep you get during the day. Wear dark sunglasses on your way home. Wear earplugs and eye masks as you sleep. Also, try to keep your sleep schedule consistent, even on your days off.

New York City may never sleep, but it is important that you get an adequate amount of sleep, especially before you begin driving. As a shift worker, you may have a higher risk of drowsy driving, but there are actions you can take to be safe and reduce your chance of being in a drowsy driving collision.

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