You worked a long shift. Your feet are throbbing, your back is aching, and your eyelids are drooping closed. Sound familiar? Nurses work long and tiring shifts. Twelve hours on the clock is standard, and that’s if you manage to get off on time.

After a long shift, you probably want to jump in the car and get home to bed.

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But Nurses’ long and tiring shifts put them at a heightened risk for dangerous and potential deadly drowsy driving.

You’re a Nurse. You already know how important sleep is. But when you’re so busy taking care of other people, it is easy to forget about yourself.  It’s also not uncommon for the nature of a Nurse’s job to make it difficult for him or her to fall asleep at night. Did I remember to chart on that last patient? Did I give the right dosage of that last med? Did I leave the right instructions for the night shift nurse? These running worries make it hard to check out and rest up.

Next time you finish a long shift on your feet, maybe even running on less than a full night’s sleep, make sure you’re in good shape to drive. You want to return to work tomorrow as a Nurse, not tonight as a patient.

Here are some signs of drowsy driving:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  • Daydreaming or wandering/disconnected thoughts
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
  • Having trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
  • Feeling restless and irritable
  • Turning up the radio or rolling down the window
  • Impaired reaction time and judgment
  • Decreased performance, vigilance and motivation

What to do to keep yourself safe:

  • Already driving and realize you’re in no shape to be behind the wheel? Pull over and call a ride. Middle of the night? Pull your car over in a safe, well-lit location and call a cab. It will always be cheaper to pay for a cab ride than a car accident or hospital bill
  • Arrange for a travel companion. Find a Nurse on your shift who lives close by who can ride with you and help make sure you are in shape to be driving
  • Take a nap. If you are too tired to drive, find a place at work to take a quick nap before you hit the road
  • Consume caffeine 30 minutes or so before you plan to head out
  • Arrange a ride. Have a friend or family member who works or live nearby? Schedule rides for different shifts, that way you know before going into work that you have a safe and reliable way to get home

Some Quick Stats on Drowsy Driving:

  • In a study of hospital staff nurses, almost 600 nurses (596 out of 895) reported at least 1 episode of drowsy driving and 30 nurses reported experiencing drowsy driving following every shift worked. For nurses who worked only night shifts, the percentage rose to 79.5%
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 100,000 police reported crashes each year are the direct result of driver fatigue. (NHTSA)
  • Each year drowsy driving crashes result in at least 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. (NHTSA)
  • Most drowsy driving crashes happen between midnight and 6:00 a.m., when the body’s need for sleep is greatest
  • Drivers who drive alone or have no one to help them watch for the signs of fatigue, like Nurses returning home from work, are at higher risk.
  • Many people do not realize how sleepy they are, but driving requires a set of skills that are significantly reduced when you are sleep deprived. Studies show that drowsiness can cause:
    • slower reaction time
    • impaired judgment and vision
    • decline in attention to important signs, road changes and the actions of other vehicles
    • decreased alertness, preventing you from seeing an obstacle and avoiding a crash
    • increased moodiness and aggressive behavior
    • problems with processing information and short-term memory
    • microsleeps—brief 2/3 second sleep episodes

Some quick reminders about the importance of Sleep- yes, even for nurses!

  • Experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep for adults
  • When a person doesn’t get enough sleep, a “sleep debt” accumulates that must be repaid—often at unexpected times, such as behind the wheel of a car.
  • Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. A good night’s sleep should be a regular part of everyone’s daily schedule.
  • Sleep affects every part of one’s life, including health, safety, mood, learning, appearance, relationships and productivity. It is as vital to our well-being as food and water!
  • Learn to recognize sleep problems. Problems sleeping or daytime sleepiness can signal a sleep disorder, which usually can be treated, or another medical condition. Talk to your doctor.

Nurses, we need you. Please put the same effort in to keeping yourself safe as you do for your patients.

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Sources:
  1. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/drowsy-driving
  2. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/Drowsy%20Driving-Key%20Messages%20and%20Talking%20Points.pdf
  3. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsdrowsydriving/index.html
  4. http://www.nhtsa.gov/Driving+Safety/Distracted+Driving/Research+on+Drowsy+Driving
  5. http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/drowsy_driving1/human/drows_driving/index.html
  6. http://www.modernmedicine.com/modern-medicine/news/nurses-and-drowsy-driving
  7. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-12/aaos-nwe111907.php
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