According to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll, 60% of adult drivers – approximately 168 million people – reported driving  while feeling drowsy in the past year,  and more than one-third (37% or 103 million people) reported actually falling asleep at the wheel.  Of those who nodded off, 13% reported doing so in the last month, and 4% – approximately 11 million drivers – admitted a crash or near crash because they were too tired to drive or dozed off.

This week, the NSF came out with new recommendations for ideal sleep time by age group.  A summary of the new recommendations includes:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

According to the new report, sleep durations requirements vary across lifespan and from person to person.  However, “

[i]ndividuals who habitually sleep outside the normal range may be exhibiting signs or symptoms of serious health problems or, if done volitionally, may be compromising their health and well-being.”

In 1995, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) estimated that each year 100,000 police-reported crashes were caused by drowsiness or fatigue.  This resulted in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

According to the NSF’s 2002 poll:

  • Adults between 18-29 are much more likely to drive while drowsy compared to other age groups (71% vs. 30-34, 52% vs 65+).
  • Men are more likely than women to drive while drowsy (56% vs. 45) and are almost twice as likely as women to fall asleep while driving (22% vs. 12%).
  • Adults with children in the household are more likely to drive drowsy than those without children (59% vs. 45%).
  • Shift workers are more likely than those who work a regular daytime schedule to drive to or from work drowsy at least a few days a month (36% vs. 25%).

A 2011 NHSTA study showed that drowsy driving was reportedly involved in 2.2% to 2.6% (approx. 4,430) of total fatal crashes annually during the period 2005 through 2009, nationwide.  The 2011 report also showed that drowsy driving was reportedly involved in  2.0% to 2.3% (approx. 184,000) of all injury crashes during the same period.

Importantly, the NSF reports current drowsy driving figures may be the tip of the iceberg since it is difficult to attribute crashes to sleepiness.  In part, it’s difficult because there is no test to determine sleepiness, state reporting practices are inconsistent, self-reporting is unreliable, drowsiness/fatigue may play a role in crashes attributed to other causes such as alcohol, and according to data from other countries (Australia, England, Finland and other European nations) drowsy driving represents 10-30% of all crashes.

Everyone is familiar with feeling sleepy and fatigued at times, but all of us have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to be alert and aware while driving.  Importantly, for everyone of driving age, between 10 hours and 7 hours of sleep is recommended.

For those of us driving, all approximately 168 million of us, drowsy driving statistics and the new study are reminders that getting your (approximately) 8 hours is as important as ever.

Read the NHSTA 2011 study here:

Read the National Sleep Foundation Release here: