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Even if you don’t fall asleep, drowsy driving is dangerous.

Antonio Diaz/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Good myths never die. They just swirl around. I was recently reminded of this fact by a survey commissioned by Calm, a sleep and meditation app. YouGov, a polling company headquartered in Britain, questioned 4,337 American, British and French adults about their assumptions regarding sleep. They found a lot of foolishness, including the belief that “you swallow a few spiders every year while you sleep.”

Perhaps the most alarming was the belief (held by 50 per cent of those surveyed) that lowering the car windows or turning up the air conditioning will help you stay awake when driving. These tricks don’t work.

“They are ineffective and can be dangerous to anyone who is driving while feeling drowsy or sleepy, as well as their passengers and others on the road,” says Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of Calm. In 2013, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths in the United States. A 2007 National Sleep Foundation survey found that 20 per cent of American drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel.

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Even if you don’t fall asleep, drowsy driving is dangerous. It makes you less able to pay attention to the road. It slows reaction time. It hampers your ability to make good decisions.

Back in the 1980s, the roll-the-windows-down “hack” was applied to drunk driving. Some cops would advise an inebriated motorist – who didn’t have far to go – to roll the windows down and drive slow. Other drunk-driving golden oldies: You could drive drunk if you’d only had beer and you could drive under the influence if you’d had a couple cups of coffee. Those who worry we’ll never win the battle against distracted driving should take heart. Today, such beliefs are not only universally considered wrong, they’re almost thought of as fairy tales.

But drowsy driving myths live on.

Many of us drive when we’re sleep-deprived. Bleary eyes and bottomless cups of coffee often characterize road trips. It’s hard not to drive sleepy. Sleepiness is a hallmark of modern life. When you mix driving into the equation, however, exhaustion takes on a precarious edge. But we ignore the fact drowsy driving is dangerous because driving is something we do each day. We become inured to the risk.

The key to fighting drowsy driving is prevention. If you’ve got a big drive ahead of you, try to get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.

But rest is not always achievable. Some folks sleep like a baby – they wake up every three hours and cry. If you find that you’re driving and forgetting the last few miles you’ve driven, missing a turn or running on the shoulder of the road, then the next best solution is acceptance. Accept that your performance is less than optimal and take steps to treat it. Don’t go into denial.

An effective way to combat drowsy driving is to make more frequent stops. If you stop every two or three hours, even for a few minutes, that will rejuvenate your ability to concentrate. If you find you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open, pull over at a safe rest area and get some slumber.

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Better to have a short nap than to end up taking the Big Sleep.

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