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Drowsiness takes toll on motorists like alcohol, sleep experts say

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March 28, 2000
Web posted at: 4:31 p.m. EST (2131 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Driving while drowsy is similar to driving while drunk, says the National Sleep Foundation.

It slows reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment. It also kills at least 1,500 Americans each year, according to the National Highway Safety Administration. And that figure is almost certainly low since many drivers don't report drowsiness as contributing to a wreck.

Still, half of American adults in a survey admit driving while drowsy; 17 percent report dozing off while driving, the non-profit foundation reported Tuesday.

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The survey findings are from the foundation’s “Sleep in America Poll” of 1,154 U.S. adults. National Sleep Awareness Week ends Sunday.

Wired behind the wheel

The survey shows that 63 percent of adults use caffeine when they feel drowsy while driving. Naps are a better way to handle sleepiness, the foundation said. "Approximately one out of five drivers report that they pull over to nap when they feel drowsy while driving,” according to a foundation spokesman.

Men are more likely than women to drive drowsy (63 percent compared to 43 percent) and to doze off (22 percent versus 13 percent), the foundation’s report said.

Also, the poll found that most American adults get less than the recommended eight hours of sleep a night.

On average, adults sleep 6 hours, 54 minutes during the workweek. Most adults cop an extra 40 minutes on weekend nights. Younger adults, ages 18 to 29, sleep an average of one hour longer on the weekends compared to the workweek, while people 65 years and older sleep about the same amount of time each night of the week.

Weary workers

Americans now work the longest hours of any industrialized nation in the world, according to a recent study by the International Labour Organization. Although people are working more hours to get more done, individual productivity levels are suffering due to sleepiness, the foundation’s poll found.

Half of the American workforce reports that sleepiness on the job interferes with the amount of work they get done.

About four of ten adults admit they "often stay up later than they should because they are watching TV or are on the Internet." About half of adults acknowledge they "need an alarm clock to get up in the morning."

The most common symptoms of insomnia were: "woke up feeling un-refreshed," reported by 43 percent; "awake a lot during the night," 34 percent; "difficulty falling asleep," 22 percent; and "woke up too early and could not go back to sleep," 22 percent.

Forty-five percent of men report that they snore at least a few nights per week; 28 percent of women report that they snore.

About one of seven survey respondents reports feelings of creeping, crawling or tingling in the legs, which are symptoms of “restless legs syndrome.”

Factors disrupting sleep were, in descending order, personal stress, pain, needs of children, noise and other environmental problems, partner’s snoring, uncomfortable bedding, nasal congestion, allergies, indigestion and pauses in partner’s breathing.

Solutions to sleepiness

When experiencing difficulty sleeping, 53 percent of the adults surveyed say their "most likely" reaction is to do nothing about it. However, 18 percent say they are most likely to use herbal remedies; 17 percent favor over-the-counter medications. Seven percent are most likely to use prescription medication when having sleep difficulty.

One-fourth of adults agree that "if they had trouble sleeping for a month, they would take a sleeping pill." Hesitation in taking sleeping pills is explained, at least in part, by the finding that 40 percent agree that "if they start using sleeping pills, they might always need them to sleep."

CNN Health Correspondent Eileen O’Connor contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
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