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Daylight Savings Time can be problematic -- especially for drivers

There are lots of preventative steps, but nothing beats sleep

Photo (c) Rabbitti - Getty Images
Time to “spring forward” this weekend. If you’re anything like most people, pushing your clock ahead may cause a little fatigue until your body catches up.

It’s also a change that can play havoc with commuters as they try and fend off driver fatigue and hazards on the road, says Virginia Tech Transportation Institute expert Jeff Hickman.  

“Any time change can exacerbate drowsiness because your internal clock has not adjusted to the time change. This can lead to disruptions in sleep until your body adjusts, which can take a few days to a week,” says Hickman.

Hickman notes that sleep deprivation is compounded because the sun doesn’t instantly jump forward when clocks do, forcing many commuters out on the streets and highways during morning darkness.

How to adjust to the time change

Hickman offered these tips for drivers to avoid fatigue:

Avoid driving during rush hour and from 2-4 a.m.

Crash risk increases during rush hours and from 2-4 a.m. Driving between 2-4 a.m. is particularly dangerous because a person’s circadian rhythm is at its lowest during this timeframe. And when a driver is already sleep-deprived, the desire to sleep during the circadian low is even greater.

Get a full night’s sleep

Drivers should try to sleep at least seven to eight hours in order to avoid drowsiness. However, one night’s rest may not be enough for someone who has experienced several sleepless nights. In those cases, the driver will need several days of restful sleep to compensate for the sleep debt.

Pay attention to signs of drowsy driving

Signs of drowsy driving include slow eyelid closures, yawning, gentle swaying of the head, seat fidgeting, difficulty staying in your lane, difficulty maintaining speed, and delayed reactions.

Be aware of other factors impacting drowsy driving

Situations that increase drowsiness are driving alone, monotonous road conditions (such as long straightaways with limited changes in the environment), long drives, and extended periods of heavy traffic.

Non-drivers have changes to deal with, too

“Each person is different. For some, this change will have no impact. For others, it may take a day or two -- and for some, it may take longer to adjust (maybe a week),” Hickman told ConsumerAffairs.

“Prior sleep deprivation is only make the effect of Daylight Savings Time (DST) worse. There's not much you can do at this point. If you're proactive, you could alter your bedtime/wake time by 10-15 minutes each day until you're aligned with DST. Going to bed an hour early the day before DST is likely to have limited benefit as your body's internal clock is still programmed to sleep and wake at a set time.”

An extra shot of coffee might help, too. Hickman told ConsumerAffairs that while caffeine is a good short-term countermeasure, 7-8 hours of sleep is the only effective countermeasure.

“Most people assume that each hour of sleep has the same restorative benefit (4 hours = 50% restoration); however, this is incorrect. The most benefit is achieved in hours 6-7 and 7-8.”

Don’t forget about the kids.

In a separate story about how time change impacts children, ConsumerAffairs reported that when the times of the day that usually correspond to certain amounts of light are altered, so are the signals that tell a child’s body when it’s time to start and end the day. According to the Pediatric Sleep Council, it can take children up to 10 days to fully reset their internal clock to Daylight Saving Time.

The Better Sleep Council added that tacking on an extra step or two to your child’s bedtime routine can also be beneficial, like reading a book together. Having them take a warm bath or shower can also help them relax before bed.

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