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Many drivers at risk for drowsy driving despite feeling rested

Falling asleep while driving is very dangerous and is a major cause of car accidents in the United States. Despite drowsy driving being very common, researchers have had a difficult time figuring out who is most at risk for falling asleep behind the wheel. Until now.

Researchers estimate that drowsy driving contributes to 15 to 30 percent of fatal car accidents in the U.S. While everyone is at risk for falling asleep behind the wheel if they don't get enough rest before driving, a new study found that people who sleep less than an average of six hours are more likely to commit drowsy driving. 

The researchers said getting one extra hour of sleep can make all the difference. Individuals who get six hours of sleep or less on average have double the risk of driving drowsy compared to people who get seven hours of sleep on average. Worse, people who only get five hours of sleep or less at night are four times as likely to drive drowsy, according to the study.

The study also found that people who get less sleep, meaning less than five and six hours of sleep, still reported getting enough sleep and feeling rested in the morning. However, the researchers found that these drivers are three times more likely to drive drowsy within a given month compared to people who get more sleep. 

The finding that some people who feel well-rested still have a higher risk of falling asleep behind the wheel is very disturbing as it is up to drivers to know when they can safely operate a vehicle. People who don't get enough sleep at night but still feel like they do may be putting everyone's life at risk when they get behind the wheel without even knowing. 

All drivers should be aware of the signs and symptoms of drowsy driving, and understand that if they don't get an average of seven hours or more of sleep they have a higher risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. Knowing this can help people take steps to reduce their risk of being in an accident caused by drowsy driving. 

Source: Medical Xpress, "Short sleepers most likely to be drowsy drivers, study finds," Oct. 2, 2013

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