Unit 4

Stress, drowsiness and fatigue

Stress, drowsiness and fatigue Stress, drowsiness and fatigue

Take note:

  • Stress and fatigue are the fourth major cause of fatal traffic accidents.
  • Stress is difficult to identify, except by yourself.
  • Nearly 80 percent of drivers suffer stress at the wheel.
  • Stress causes nervousness, irritability and concentration and attention difficulties.

Do you know what stress is?

We've all heard about stress, but do we really know what it is? We might say that it is the body's reaction to new or adverse situations that cause tension: an exam, a sports competition, a family argument, etc., but anything that takes us out of our routine can also cause stress. The causes are different for each person, but the reactions are very similar for everyone: nervousness (sometimes visible, sometimes not) and a resistance to new situations, giving rise to drowsiness, fatigue, despondency, etc.

Strategy to combat stress

The strategy for combating stress is based on three pointers: 1. Recognizing the symptoms. 2. Identifying the cause. 3. Trying to eliminate the cause or accepting the situation.

Knowing how to recognize you are stressed is relatively simple, but don't believe that makes you smart! Knowing the cause might seem simple but it is not always the case. Often you wake up feeling agitated without apparent cause until you remember you have an exam or an important meeting.

It's not always easy to eliminate the causes of stress, but you can try. If you're stressed because of an important piece of work you have to do, get started on it and the nervousness will disappear; or if you have lost your job, just remember there are far worse things that could happen to you. In any case, healthy lifestyle choices (not smoking and/or drinking alcohol; not taking drugs; taking moderate exercise; a balanced diet, etc.) will help a great deal in leading a more relaxed life.

Stress is cumulative. Your work, emotional, personal and other problems all pile up together and although there are factors beyond your control, you can take an intelligent approach to overcoming them. If you go partying at night, don't stay until the early hours when you have an important appointment the next morning and don't have lunch with friends 100 km away and arrange to go training in the afternoon. These plans might work for superheroes, but not you.

How can you tell if you are suffering from stress?

These are the most obvious physiological signs of a person under stress; if you recognize them it's time to take action:

  • Muscle tension.
  • Accelerated breathing.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Dryness of the mouth.
  • Cold or clammy hands.
  • Headache.

The alternatives:

If you're stressed but have to drive somewhere you will need to make a choice:

  • One, not to drive. Choose between using public transport or finding a good friend who will act as your chauffeur.
  • Two, eliminate the stress. But beware! Don't stuff yourself with tranquilizers; the cure would be worse than the illness.

There is no third way. Driving “just a little bit” stressed is not a truly safe option either for you or anybody else.

Drowsiness and fatigue

  • One in every three fatal accidents is caused by tiredness or drowsiness...
  • ...and, in spite of that, three out of every four drivers admit to having driven while drowsy!
  • Drowsiness is an invisible enemy that sometimes creeps up on you with no warning. Eight of every ten drivers are unable to identify the symptoms of fatigue.
  • Traffic accidents caused by drowsiness are four times more serious than those caused by alcohol.

Do you feel sleepy? Then don't drive!

What is sleep? Sleep is a state of "disconnection with reality", a fundamental and essential human requirement that allows our physical and psychological functions to recover. In a state of deep sleep, a truck could drive right by you and you wouldn't even notice.

It is relatively easy to realize you are tired but the “nodding off” that can cause an accident is more complicated to predict. In this, as in pretty much everything, you can be sure that a feeling of “I'm in control” represents the most serious risk.

Don't think twice: if you're going to drive and feel tired, then get some sleep! Sometimes a half-hour nap is enough to clear your head, and who knows if it might save your life and those of others?

The routine of sleep

This is not about sleeping a lot but sleeping well. It seems straightforward: if you are tired, sleep; but many times the problem is not the number of hours but the poor quality of sleep. To improve your sleep we offer the following advice:

  • Routine, in this case, is a good thing. As far as possible, try to establish a regular time for going to bed and getting up.
  • Don't go to bed straight after dinner, the ideal is to wait a couple of hours.
  • Avoid tobacco and stimulants (coffee, tea, etc.) in the hours leading up to bedtime.
  • Find a cozy environment, quiet and not too warm.

Drowsiness is not the same as fatigue

Fatigue is a process of physical deterioration that slows down the way our body functions. For example, you can be absolutely exhausted from doing physical exercise yet not feel sleepy. But fatigue is dangerous in itself as well as a prelude to tiredness.

Fatigue drastically reduces your ability to react, but above all it diminishes your ability to process the enormous amount of information you are exposed to while driving.

The alternatives

If you think you are very tired and that you could become drowsy…

  • Have a sleep. So what if you arrive late? Better late than never.
  • On a journey, share the driving with your fellow travelers.
  • And that's it: the most that you can achieve with energy drinks, having a coffee, splashing your face, turning the radio up louder, opening the window, etc., is to clear your head for a moment, but none of them can overcome drowsiness.