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Missoula City-County Health Department: Health Promotion
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Missoula City-County Health Department: Health Promotion

Missoula City-County Health Department: Health Promotion

DUI Task Force - Sleep Deprivation

Wake Up and Get Some Sleep!

Sick and tired of waking up sick and tired? There are many people who answer this question with a loud “YES!” As society becomes more of a “round-the-clock” operation, an increasing number of people are sleep deprived. The people who suffer the effects of sleep deprivation most intensely are shift workers – people who work to maintain 24-hour-a-day business operations such as factories, newspapers, hospitals, hotels and convenience stores.

Being chronically sleepy is bad for a person’s health and very dangerous when the sleepy driver is behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Shift workers rank among the top three populations at highest risk for drowsy driving traffic crashes because they are working against their biological clocks or “circadian rhythm.” Because they have to sleep when their bodies are telling them to be awake, and be awake when their bodies are telling them to sleep, they frequently miss things they would normally respond to, resulting in careless and even dangerous errors at work, at home, and while driving.

Late night and early morning drive times are the most hazardous, with many crashes occurring between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. That is when the body naturally experiences sleepiness. Drowsy driving crashes are often more serious than other traffic crashes for several reasons: crashes involving drivers who fall asleep frequently occur on high speed highways (because the driver is traveling at the same speed for a longer period of time); the driver’s eyes are closed so there is no attempt to avoid the crash; and the driver is usually alone in the vehicle so there’s no one to alert the driver to danger.

Experts have found however, that there is something shift workers can do: “Wake Up and Get Some Sleep!” That’s right: the only proven countermeasure to avoid drowsy driving crashes is to get more or better sleep.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) along with the National Center for Sleep Disorder Research has developed a comprehensive education program consisting of an employee worksite training program, six 4-color posters, a brochure, a video, and a sleep-improvement tip card. The program is based on recommendations of an expert panel and an extensive series of focus groups with both shift workers and management personnel. Information on the development of the program is available at:

For additional questions, or copies of these materials, please contact:

Wake Up and Get Some Sleep!
400 Seventh Street, SW, NTS-21
Washington DC 20590

Consumption of Alcohol Interacts with Sleepiness to Increase Drowsiness and Impairment

Although sleepiness and alcohol are distinct crash causes, the data also show some evidence of overlap. NHTSA found that drivers had consumed some alcohol in nearly 20 percent of all sleepiness-related, single-vehicle crashes (Wang, Knipling, Goodman, 1996). More than one in three New York State drivers surveyed in drowsy-driving crashes said they had drunk some alcohol (McCartt et al., 1996), and police-reported, fall-asleep crashes had a higher proportion of alcohol involvement than other types of crashes in that State. (New York GTSC Task Force, 1994; New York State Task Force, 1996).

Laboratory studies show that sleepiness magnifies the sedation effect of alcohol. The two together have a much greater adverse affect on motor skills and judgment than either one alone. (Roehrs et al. 1994; Wilkinson, 1968; Huntley, Centybear, 1974; Peeke et al., 1980).

Driving simulation tests specifically show this effect, even with modest reductions in sleep, low alcohol doses, and low blood ethanol concentrations. In a driving simulation study, alcohol levels below the legal driving limit produced a greater number of deviations from the road after 4 hours of sleep than after 8 hours of sleep (Roehrs et al., 1994)

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