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Losing an hour of sleep can heighten car crash risk: AAA warns

  • Missing two hours or more of sleep nearly doubles your crash risk, AAA says
  • Drivers need at least seven hours of sleep a night to drive safely
  • Nearly 3 in 10 people admit to driving drowsy within the past month.

As Americans roll their clocks forward for daylight saving on March 10, they may miss more than the early church service or that Sunday brunch with their buddies. Since they will lose an hour, the AAA reminds anyone getting on the road that day that they need to remember to adjust their sleep schedules so they still get a minimum of seven hours of snooze.

That isn't just a gentle suggestion. AAA research from its Foundation for Traffic Safety shows drivers who miss one to two hours of the recommended time in a 24-hour period can nearly double their risk for a crash. The AAA is the U.S.'s largest association of motor clubs.   

"You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel," said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Our new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than 5 hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk."

Poor sleep may affect heart health 01:33

The National Sleep Foundation has said that drivers who have slept for less than two hours in a 24-hour period are "unfit to operate a motor vehicle."  But AAA's report goes further, saying that drivers getting even five hours of sleep in a 24-hour period experience a level of impairment that produces the same risk of crashing as driving over the legal limit for alcohol.

While 95 percent of drivers tell AAA they view drowsy driving as a completely unacceptable behavior that is a serious threat to their safety, nearly 3 in 10 admit to driving when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at least once in the past month.  

Knowing the warning signs of drowsiness can help drivers avoid dozing off behind the wheel. The most common symptoms include:

Having trouble keeping your eyes open

Drifting from your lane

Not remembering the last few miles driven

"Don't be fooled, the only antidote for drowsiness is sleep," said William Van Tassel, manager of Driver Training for AAA. "Short term tactics like drinking coffee, singing, or rolling down the window will not work. Your body's need for sleep will eventually override your brain's attempts to stay awake."

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