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This coming weekend we move the clocks forward an hour for daylight savings time – losing an hour of sleep in the process. As we prepare to make that adjustment, now’s a good opportunity to think about the importance of sleep in our daily lives – and what can happen when we don’t get enough of it.

Getting enough sleep improves your mood, physical health, memory and performance. But lack of sleep can lead to drowsiness – and drowsiness while driving is a major risk factor for fatal car crashes.  It is estimated that one in five motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S. involves a drowsy driver – and crashes increase when time changes occur.

For teens, drowsy driving is even more of a concern – because teens need even more sleep than adults.  In fact, new findings from the 2017 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey reveal that one in eight high school students who drive report having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past 30 days.  This compares to one in 25 adults who report having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past month.  Some teens reported falling asleep at the wheel three or more times in the past month.  Teens have a stronger “sleep drive” than adults, which can make it harder for them to stay awake when sleepy.

Between school, work, after-school activities, and recreation, it is particularly hard for high school students to get enough sleep.  Only 20 percent of Massachusetts high school students report getting eight or more hours sleep on an average school night.  Not surprisingly, students who get less sleep are also more likely to report falling asleep at the wheel.

Parents can help keep their teens safe from drowsy driving in several ways:

  • Talk to your teen driver about the risks associated with drowsy driving.
  • Make sure your teen knows the warning signs for drowsy driving — trouble keeping your eyes open, drifting from your lane, missing a turn, and not being able to remember the last few miles driven.
  • Brainstorm ideas with your teen about what to do if they are feeling drowsy and need to get somewhere, for example, have someone else drive who is alert, call a ride-hailing service (such as Lyft or Uber) or taxi, or pull over and rest for at least 20 minutes. Let them know that getting there late, or opting out of an activity is better than falling asleep behind the wheel.
  • The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that teens get 8 – 10 hours of sleep a night. Let your teen know about the importance of getting enough sleep.  Help them find ways to balance school, work, screen time, after school and recreational activities.
  • Setting a good example for your teen will have the most impact on their behavior. Try to get enough sleep yourself and don’t drive when you are sleepy.

These simple steps could save a life.

For more information about drowsy driving, go to:  www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/drowsy_driving

For more information about the importance of sleep, go to:  www.cdc.gov/sleep

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