TOMS RIVER, NJ, JUNE 2, 2010 - As weekend road warriors prepare for the summer tourism season, Community Medical Center's Sleep Disorders Center cautions drivers traveling to the Jersey Shore area to be especially alert behind the wheel.
Many travelers will brave congested roadways and long hours behind the wheel, making safe driving difficult for even the most alert driver. Weekend travel may mean more stress, fatigue and sleepiness for millions of drivers. What it shouldn't mean is more people sleepy behind the wheel.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, about six out of 10 adults licensed to drive say they have driven a motor vehicle while feeling drowsy. That's approximately 118 million people putting themselves and others at risk on our nation's local roads and major highways. According to poll findings, four percent - approximately 8 million people - have actually had a crash or near miss because they dozed off or were drowsy while driving.
"Being drowsy behind the wheel can have the same effects as being drunk," warns Dr. Gerald Ferencz, a neurologist and co-medical director of Sleep Disorders Center at Community Medical Center, an affiliate of the Saint Barnabas Health Care System. "But if you're sleep deprived, have a few drinks and then get behind the wheel, the results can be especially dangerous, if not deadly." In fact, 24 hours without sleep has a similar effect to a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent; more than the legal threshold for drunken driving in many states, Dr. Ferencz, also a board certified sleep specialist, notes.
"Too often, people take long stretches behind the wheel. Coupled with a lack of sleep, it can cause severe impairment to attention and reaction time," says Dr. Ferencz.
Specific at-risk groups include: people under 25, shift workers working more than 60 hours a week, commercial drivers, business travelers, and people with undiagnosed or untreated disorders such as sleep apnea.
There are several signs to indicate fatigue while driving, though many people may not associate the symptoms with fatigue or sleepiness and continue to drive when they should stop. Some signs that should tell a driver to stop and rest include: difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, heavy eyelids; trouble keeping your head up; yawning repeatedly; drifting from your lane; missing exits; and trouble remembering the last few miles driven.
"It's important to recognize these signs and find a safe place to stop. When possible, have a companion take over the driving," says Dr. Stephen Newman, a pulmonologist, board certified sleep specialist and co-director of Community's Sleep Disorders Center. Caffeine from coffee or energy drinks can promote short-term alertness, but it takes approximately 30 minutes for caffeine to enter the bloodstream."
Dr. Newman suggests taking a 15-20 minute nap while waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Dr. Newman adds, "This summer season; make sleep a priority to help ensure that you and your loved ones enjoy a safe summer at the Jersey Shore."
For more information on Community Medical Center's Sleep Disorders Center with locations in Toms River and Manahawkin, call 1-888-724-7123, or visit www.barnabashealth.org.
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