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Posts from the ‘About Sleep’ Category

Driving Drowsy

One in 20 Americans has caused and accident by driving drowsy. 1 Drowsy driving is the second leading cause of automobile accidents. The first is drunkenness. 1 Driving drowsy slows reaction times and reduces alertness.

Driving without the adequate amount of sleep is not only extremely dangerous to yourself, but you also put all other drivers on the road in jeopardy.

Truck drivers are amongst some of the most sleep deprived shift workers. The legal limit for driving time for commercial drivers is 10 hours at a time. 2 Because of the high stress level and irregular schedule of the profession, commercial drivers should make an effort to get a good night’s sleep on a comfortable mattress for a decent amount of time.

Risk Factors

  • Alcohol is a major risk factor in driving. One drink on six hours of sleep is the equivalent to six drinks on eight hours of sleep. 1
  • Driving alone is dangerous because it puts all driving on one person and makes car rides more monotonous.
  • Monotonous roads make it difficult to stay engaged in driving and can “hypnotize” the driver.
  • Excessive work hours can cause individuals to be extremely deprived of sleep, making driving a very dangerous task.
  • Untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can cause fragmented sleep and daytime drowsiness. Avoid driving long periods of time while sleep deprived. Sleep apnea can increase the chances of falling asleep at the wheel 300 to 700 percent. 3
  • Medication that causes drowsiness such as cold or allergy medication can impair alertness and make driving very difficult.

Combating Drowsy Driving

  • Regardless of your destination, getting somewhere in a hurry is not worth your or someone else’s life. If feeling drowsy pull off the road at a rest stop or gas station and take a nap. A 15 to 20 minute nap at a well lit buys gas station or rest area is safest, especially if traveling at night.
  • Once you have rested your eyes, get some caffeine such as coffee or an energy drink and engage in physical activity such as a brief walk.
  • Do not start driving again until you feel refreshed.

Preventing Drowsy Driving

  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before you begin a long road trip.
  • Do not begin a road trip during the “midday slump” or in the evening.
  • Do not plan to drive for more than 10 hours.
  • Plan to stay overnight if your trip requires you to drive at night time.
  • Plan for traffic and unpredictable delays by allowing extra time for your trip.
  • Plan to stop every 100 miles or so at a gas station or rest stop. Be sure to stretch your legs and move around. Be sure to get snacks or drinks at stops to keep energized.
  • Plan to drive with someone else. Sharing the driving can take a lot of the stress off the driver and make the drive less monotonous.
  • Drive during times you are usually awake. Darkness triggers melatonin production in the brain which can cause drowsiness.
  • Make the car environment somewhat uncomfortable. Keep the air cool and the music louder and more upbeat. Soft music can lull you to sleep.
  • Do not drive if you have untreated sleep disorders.

Most people underestimate the power sleep deprivation can have on their ability to drive and attempt to simply drive through or speed up to get to our destination quicker. (I know I’m guilty of this). With driving being as unpredictable as it is because of other drivers, weather and car functions, any lack in alertness can contribute to potentially fatal accidents.

Driving drowsy is a very serious problem in America resulting in an estimated 100,000 police-reported crashes, 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries and more than $1.2 billion in monetary losses. 2


1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

2. The American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety—Drowsy Driving FAQ’s;

3. National Sleep Foundation—Drowsy Driving Prevention Video;

Why Do We Yawn?

A “yawn” as defined by is said to be “to open the mouth somewhat involuntarily with a prolonged, deep inhalation and sighing or heavy exhalation, as from drowsiness or boredom.” The word yawn is derived from the Old English word meaning to gape or open wide. The average human yawns 240,000 times in a lifetime and the average yawn lasts about six seconds. 1

Many believe that a yawn is in response to excess carbon dioxide or shortage of oxygen in the lungs. This notion is false and probably assumed because of the gasp that takes place at the end of yawns.

While yawns are typically seen as a comical occurrence, it is now known that excessive yawning can signify a brain tumor, hemorrhages, opiate withdrawal, chorea, encephalitis and other internal issues. 2

Stretching is usually accompanied by a yawn; however, they are not dependent on each other. Also, the face that is formed when yawning stretches the face and is possibly one of the reasons that yawns are so satisfying. On a scale from one to 10 (10 being most satisfying), the average rating was 8.5. 2

All vertebrate animals yawn in the same fashion as humans. Also, yawning is not exclusive to mammals. Crocodiles, sharks, snakes and birds all yawn. 1 The purpose of their yawning is unknown as well.

Reading about yawning stimulates yawns, similarly to seeing someone yawn makes you have to desire to yawn. (I’ve yawned about 30 times while writing this). The yawn alone is not what is contagious. In fact, the entire facial stretch that accompanies the yawn causes others to feel the need to replicate the face. Therefore, even when you cover your mouth, the “yawn face” is still present in the eyes and can cause others to yawn. Contagious yawning is thought to be an ancient way of communicating bedtime. 2

Recent studies have shown that yawning may not be linked to sleepiness or boredom whatsoever, and may be needed in order to cool the brain. 3 This theory is generated from medical observations such as epileptics yawning excessively before a seizure. Now yawning can be used as a signal to greater problems, especially with diseases or disorders that affect the brain’s temperature. Additionally, some animals that do not sweat such as dogs and pigs may use yawning to cool their bodies, even if just by a fraction of a degree. 2

While most aspects of yawning are still a mystery, it is clear that if you are yawning very often you are likely not getting enough sleep or extremely bored. Though many theories are continuously being developed, no proven function has been identified.


1. WebMD—What’s in a Yawn?

2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

3. USA Today—Yawning may cool brain when needed;

Men vs. Women: Battle of the Sleepers

While many might assume that all humans have identical sleeping patterns, men and women have been shown to have different behaviors and reactions in their sleep. Sleep behaviors are very important, especially in observing how your sleep partner and other surroundings affect your sleep. Because of the drastic differences in circadian rhythms, sleep disorder likelihood and uncontrollable sleep behaviors can effect your  and your sleep partner’s overall ability to sleep.

  • Women tend to have significantly more dreams than men.1
  • In elderly individuals, women tend to have more problems related to sleep than men.2
  • Snoring is more common in men than in women. 3
  • Women are two to three times more likely to suffer from insomnia. 2
  • Men are twice as likely as women to have sleep apnea. 2
  • Female smokers tend to experience daytime sleepiness while male smokers are likely to have disturbing dreams. 1
  • The majority of night-eaters are women. 1
  • Men tend to wake up more in the night due to sleep apnea related problems. 3
  • Postmenopausal women have the same rate as men of sleep apnea. 2
  •  On average, women take less time to fall asleep than men. 3
  • During menopause, women are said to lose more sleep (due to hot flashes) that cause irritability and depression. 1
  • Women experience less sleep and more irritability, confusion and depression during the premenstrual stage of the cycle. 1
  • Men often dream about unfamiliar places and people and find themselves outside while women tend to dream of familiar indoor settings, such as their home, dormitory or work, involving familiar people. 4
  • Dreams with aggression are almost equally frequent in males and females. 4
  • Sleep complaints are more common in women. 4
  • Women tend to sleep more on average, but have less deep sleep making them more prone to sleep disorders and nightly disturbances such as a restless sleep partner. 1
  • Women are inclined to fall asleep quicker and wake up earlier as compared to men. 5

Male and female sleep cycles and behaviors are very different, and, when matched with the problems of a sleep partner, can be enhanced. Sleep disorders and simple differences in optimal sleep length can cause sleep partners to have to alter schedules and learn to cope with disruptions brought on by another’s sleep behavioral differences.


1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998. 174-175

2. WebMD—Men and Women Sleep Differences;

3. Wall Street Journal—A Sleep Battle of the Sexes;

4. Carskadon, Mary A. Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming. New York: Macmillan Pub., 1993.

5. Psychology Today— Michael J. Breus, Ph.D.;

What are dreams?

Everyone has awoken from a frightening dream or rolled out of bed feeling fulfilled because of a dream. Dreams allow individuals to feel as if they are using the time they spend sleeping for entertainment and learning. Dreams have always been an area of interest for many people, but the true origin and substance of dreaming remain a mystery to most.

Dreams, as defined by, are “a succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep.” 1

Dreams occur in all stages of sleep but occur most frequently and vividly in the first stage of REM sleep.2 This stage is the most important in the sleep cycle as it provides a period of restoration and healing for the body and mind.

If an individual gets the recommended eight hours of sleep in a night, they can go through at least 4 stages of REM sleep resulting in hours of dream time, although most dreams are never recalled.2 Many individuals report never remembering dreams when, in actuality, they are simply not placing importance on dreaming.  People tend to recall their dreams about once every few days on average; however, if one is awakened during REM sleep, they can recall their dream 80% of the time.3

It is thought that dreams occur because of the process during REM sleep when the brain synapses are activated and intensive firing of neuronal pathways that hold memories and experiences occurs.2 This stimulation may be what causes dreaming and recall of prior experiences, future goals and a mix of the two.

Some of the most common dreams are those of individuals being chased, pursued, embarrassed, failing at something, or falling. While these types of dreams can all derive from different situations and causes, they all present a frightened sensation to the individual having the dream. Additionally, all dreamers place emphasis on different areas of their lives causing similar dreams to have various meanings to different individuals.3 For instance, more than 80% of college students noted having had dreams of the falling nature. These dreams are thought to originate from feelings of insecurity or fearing loss of emotional balance.3

While the significance of dreams is still unknown, it remains that REM sleep is truly essential to the body and mind’s health and wellness through storage of information and healing that is vital to performance during the daytime.


1. Dream (n.d) On—Retrieved May 24, 2012, from

2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

3. Carskadon, Mary A. Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming. New York: Macmillan Pub., 1993.