Sleep Disorders

Updated 11 August 2014

Asleep at the wheel

There is no place like home, but the holidays are great for getting away. Just be certain that you arrive there safely.


There is no place like home, but the holidays are great for getting away. Just be certain that you arrive there safely.

With the hectic demands of shopping, working, and organising your trip, you might become so run down you're too tired to drive safely. Motoring organisations warn that this could turn your festive season into a tragedy.

Traffic authorities have promised a clampdown this Easter, especially in the wake of the horror accident on the N2 on Sunday in which six people were killed.

 Most accidents are caused by speeding. Driving at high speeds makes it more difficult to avoid pedestrians or situations that require sudden action.

Driver fatigue and reckless overtaking are other major factors resulting in many accidents. A safe following distance can also help prevent accidents.

Research has found that common techniques drivers use to try and stay awake, such as winding down the window, are largely ineffective.

Instead they recommend stopping the car, drinking two cups of coffee, or having a few minutes' sleep.

If you have a cold or the flu, remember many medications have a sedating effect and that this effect is increased when you're tired. Stay away from any alcohol. Studies show that if you've had just four hours of sleep, one beer can have the impact of six.

Long distances, driving at night, or driving solo all put you at risk for dropping off behind the wheel.

What to do

  • Have a good night's rest before a long trip - at least 8 hours for adults and 8.5 to 9.25 hours for teenagers.
  • On long trips, take along a passenger who stays awake talking to the driver.
  • Schedule regular stops - every two hours.
  • Avoid alcohol or medications that may impair you.
  • Recognise signs of fatigue - drifting from your lane, hitting strips, repeated yawning, trouble keeping your eyes open, or missing road signs.
  • If you are tired, pull into a rest area and sleep for 15 to 45 minutes.
  • Drink coffee - but remember it takes about 30 minutes for the caffeine to enter into your bloodstream.
  • Make sure your car (tyres and brakes included) is in a sound mechanical condition
  • Minimise your night-time travelling – between 02h00 and 06h00 you are most likely to have an accident
  • Stick to the traffic rules and the speed limits – remember speed kills
  • Be patient in the traffic – better late than never

- (Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated April 2011)

Read more:
Not going  anywhere for Easter?
Easter road deaths down in 2009



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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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