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Can sleep inertia lead to a serious vehicle crash?

On Behalf of | Jun 13, 2022 | Car Accidents

It is not uncommon for drivers to get behind the wheel while tired. Whether this is due to a long shift at work, dreary winter weather, a new baby in the home or insomnia, fatigue can have a detrimental impact on a driver’s ability to safely navigate traffic and avoid road hazards.

Unfortunately, drivers experiencing sleep inertia could be an unexpected danger to themselves and other motorists on the road.

What is sleep inertia?

Individuals often feel a certain degree of grogginess after first waking up in the morning or after a long afternoon nap. Historically, they had chalked this up to simply “not being a morning person,” but researchers have coined this term and started studying it.

Sleep inertia refers to the general feelings of fatigue, sluggishness that most people experience after waking up. This feeling often lasts for between 15 and 60 minutes but could last much longer for some individuals. This is especially dangerous for those who wake up and immediately hop into their vehicle to get to work, school or run early household errands. In many situations, only a few minutes separate their bed from their vehicle.

Researchers suggest that sleep inertia could be some sort of biological imperative. Essentially, it is the brain’s way of maintaining a certain level of sleep to account for unintended awakening – making it easier to fall back asleep. Unfortunately, it is often the case that many people wake up and start their day before getting a full night’s rest. This could trigger sleep inertia.

Fatigued drivers can experience numerous symptoms that create hazards on the road, including:

  • Loss of perceptive acuity
  • Impaired visual attention
  • Impaired spatial awareness
  • Continuous yawning and blinking
  • Lack of focus

Any of these symptoms alone would be dangerous, but taken together, they represent a chance for a serious collision. Impaired drivers, distracted drivers or drivers struggling with sleep inertia are a risk for themselves and others on the road. A fatigued driver can cause severe collisions with catastrophic results. Vehicle occupants can suffer broken bones, head trauma and spinal cord damage in even a low-speed crash.

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