You wouldn’t let ‘em drive drunk, would you?
You wouldn’t knowingly put a drunk driver behind the wheel, would you? Wouldn’t let your teen drive under the influence of alcohol?
Yet when the all-night prom and graduation party circuit kicks in, parents and teens are unwittingly conspire to create a similarly toxic blend that puts young drivers at risk of death and disability. Warning: sleep-deprived teens and driving don’t mix.
In fact, studies have shown that sleep deprived drivers perform equally poor, and sometimes worse, than drivers with a DUI blood-alcohol content.
“Teens as a group are very responsible people,” says Pam Minkley, supervisor of McLaren's Sleep & Alertness Center. “If they do drink, they’ll call their parents to get a ride home, or they’ll insist on having a designated driver. If they only knew how dangerous they are as drivers when they’ve not had enough sleep! The thing is, if somebody takes a drink, you know they did, you see it.
But you can’t necessarily tell by looking at someone that they’re sleep deprived. Teens need to know, though, that a sleep deprived driver is a dangerous driver.”
Statistics bear out Minkley’s advice: The National Traffic Safety Administration estimates 200,000 auto accidents each year are caused by sleepy drivers; more than 71,000 people will suffer injuries, and another 1,500 will die.
What can parents do to keep their kids safe on the roads this time of year?
“Start working with your teen on getting more sleep, says Minkley. “If you’ve got a week before you know they’re going to be up late and driving, start now by making sure they get enough sleep. Move bedtime back, but keep getting up at the same time.
“If they can fit in a nap on prom day, or when they’re going to be up late for graduation open houses, let them sleep for an hour or so during the day. Or, encourage them to take a power nap.”
Teens already have a hormonal propensity to “phase-delay;” that is, they “overcome” the body’s natural biorhythms that tell us when it’s time to sleep, ending up becoming clock dependent. After all, notes Minkley, no “self-respecting” teen would want to go to bed at 8:30 or 9 at night when they’re beginning to feel tired. Instead, they fight their sleepiness, then become more alert and more alert as the night wears on.
A teen’s need for sleep varies. Studies show they need 8 to 10 hours of sleep at a minimum. Some researchers say kids’ brains are essentially “asleep” the first three hours of school. That’s why some high schools have shifted starting times for older students to later in the morning.