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Distracted Driving – You probably do it more than you think.

When we talk about distracted driving, we often think cellphones – texting, social medias, music… We all have that guilty memory of checking a text or trying to change what playlist is on.  We know these things are dangerous to do while driving, and we do them anyway, we think that because we know we are distracted we can be extra alert to compensate.  It’s simply not true. Distracted Driving is a serious problem. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), approximately 25% of all automobile crashes are related to cell phone use.  However, cell phone use is not the only form of Distracted Driving.  Driving while tired is another major problem.

Driving tired is something we have all done.  No matter your intentions and rituals, rough nights happen.  Morning comes, you gather yourself up, perhaps gulp a cup of coffee and hit the commute to work.  Your mind is in a haze of unfocused routine – more than likely you don’t notice anything is amiss.  You drive through an intersection and catch a glimpse of a red light in your review mirror – was it red when you went through it?  You are unsure, but nothing happened.  You arrive at work; how did you get here?  The commute isn’t memorable, you’ve done it umpteen dozen times, but usually you remember something about it, but not today.  Driving in this semi-comatose state is just as dangerous as using your cell phone or adjusting the radio but what’s even worse is we tend to not recognize we are doing it until after the fact.

So, what can you do?

The most obvious is get good, quality sleep every night.  It isn’t always in our control, but there are things that can help.

When you first wake up, if it’s sunny, or you have a sun-lamp – sit facing it for 5-10 minutes.  This will help signal to your brain that it’s time to be fully awake.

Avoiding “screen” time for at least an hour before bed can help your mind enter a more restful state.

If you shower/bath at night – give your body at least an hour between bath time and bedtime.  This allows your body temperature to return to normal before attempting to enter a sleep cycle.

Stop eating after dinner.  If you can avoid food for 2-3 hours before bed you’ll sleep more soundly as you avoid spikes in your blood sugar, or discomfort from eating.

Avoid caffeine for 4-6 hours before bed.  That’s how long it takes to move through your system.

However, the best advice I can think of is wake up with plenty of time to “take your time.”  Mornings we rush out the door go by in a blur, and while we may experience a momentary spike in energy and alertness – likely from anxiety over being late – it usually ends long before you reach your destination.  In fact, it could cause you to have an energy crash while driving – the calm after the storm, which leaves your mind wondering groggily.  By waking up with plenty of time to do your routine, you’ll find your more energy levels are more even, and your brain has time to come awake and stay awake long before getting behind the wheel.