A culture that has grown to glorify the state of being busy, working long hours, and packing the most activity into every day. Sound familiar? Americans have created what many health and wellness experts agree, is an unhealthy disregard for the value of sleep, which has become a luxury rather than a daily necessity for most.

Think about how often people share about how "little sleep" they got, and how they are still able to 'function' despite acknowledging that they were sleep deprived. Culturally, it has become almost a badge of honor to talk about getting insufficient amounts of sleep, as we sacrifice that time for other goals or activities that we think are more important. In actuality, lack of sleep has far-reaching health and safety repercussions that drivers need to be cautious of.

Factors That Impact Sleep Quality: Are You at Risk?

Certain lifestyle and dietary habits that seem harmless, can have a significant impact on the quality and duration of sleep we're able to achieve. Look in your own personal home, to determine if you are contributing inadvertently to unhealthy sleep patterns, with these four culprits:

1. Excessive screen time before bed. Watching television, and even using your laptop, tablet or smartphone within one hour of going to sleep, can impair your natural circadian rhythm. The flashes of light you see on a monitor signal that it is "daytime" to the brain, reducing the amount of serotonin released. Serotonin is responsible for the feeling of relaxation and drowsiness we experience before falling asleep.

2. Caffeine or food before bedtime. Did you know that the types of foods, and the time that you eat them, can impact how well you sleep? Certain types of foods are known to create a restless night, including desserts and high-sugar sweets, cereal or dark chocolate. High-glucose foods make it difficult for the body to chemically slow down, to fall asleep.

3. Stress. Thinking about what happened during the day, or worrying about what might happen at work the next morning, are two ways to ensure that you get a little sleep. And since the brain enjoys working on a problem (even when you are asleep), you can anticipate a restless night if you go to bed concerned or stressed out.

4. Lack of physical exercise. Part of the key to getting a good night of sleep is to make sure that your body is tired. With sedentary lifestyles, Americans are less active than any other time in history, when it comes to fitness. Brad Cardinal, professor of exercise science at Oregon State University, helped conduct a study that about 150 minutes of fitness time per week, resulted in healthy sleep patterns.

Each one of the habits seems normal, for your average person. However, when evaluating the quality of sleep, you get on a regular basis, it's important to identify seemingly harmless habits that add up to significant health and driver safety risks.

People who are most susceptible to driving while fatigued include individuals who work midnight or off-hours shifts, commercial drivers who work excessive hours behind the wheel (including driving for Uber), and individuals who are taking medications which may exacerbate feelings of drowsiness, or using recreational drugs or alcohol.

Health Risks Caused by Sleep Deprivation

Did you know that even one single night of sleep deprivation, can lead to a conditional behavior called "micro sleeps" the following day? When the human brain experiences insufficient rest time, it begins to force a 'shut down' for periodic breaks, that can last up to thirty seconds at a time. During this brief period, the sleep can be deep, or the individual's eyes can remain open, but the person is unable to move, speak or respond until the microsleep episode is over.

One of the most concerning aspects of microsleep as a mechanism is that the individual has no control over where, when or how frequently they occur. Some individuals report being blind, and unable to see anything, even if their eyes are open during a microsleep. This behavior can cause not only impaired driving but injuries at home or in the workplace. Imagine falling asleep on a ladder.

Sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on immunity, and overall health. Those mandatory 6-8 hours of rest every night offers the body much needed "down time" to heal and repair blood vessels and the heart. Individuals who have sustained sleep impairments experience problems with hypertension (high blood pressure), heart attack or stroke. They also have an increased chance of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, often resulting from the brain's inability to signal hunger accurately, when exhausted.

Mental health, energy, and overall mood can also be impacted by sleep deprivation, and in extreme cases, lack of sleep can lead to hysteria and mania for individuals with clinical depression. Medications and over the counter remedies that help people stay alerted and awake are ineffective once the body has registered a critical level of exhaustion. Despite that fact, many consumers have blind faith in 'stay awake' remedies, which can lead to an unhealthy chemical cycle of adrenaline and caffeine energy boosts, followed by low energy 'crashes' once the stimulant has worn off.

How Fatigue Impacts Reaction Time and Safe Driving

In all the focus on commercial truck drivers, how many Americans consider that they may be impaired when they operate their own vehicle while fatigued? When it comes to safely operating a motor vehicle, there is no difference between a tired commercial truck driver, and an adult driving home after working late.

Fatigue is equally dangerous to a driver, as drugs and alcohol, in terms of impacting decision making, processing and action response time. One study in Denmark revealed that reaction time can be delayed by 0.19 seconds to more than 0.30 seconds on average, for fatigued drivers. That means the time it takes for a tired driver to see (or hear) and register the situation, and act with evasive or offensive driving measures. Even 0.19 seconds is more than enough time to get into a serious or life-threatening motor vehicle collision.

When we consider the significant risks associated with both our personal health and driver safety, it makes sense to increase education and awareness about "drowsy driving". It should be considered as threatening as other forms of impaired driving, and licensed Americans should also think twice, before operating a motor vehicle when they are not rested, or alert.

Author's Bio: 

Jenniffer Pickard is a freelance content writer specialized in producing high-quality and original content. She is passionate about researching and writing for diverse industries. In her spare time, she hangs out with her friends and whips up delectable desserts.