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Why does a good night's sleep matter so much?

As you drive to work in Washington, you notice that the vehicle in front of you is weaving slightly in its lane and driving slower than the flow of traffic. It could be a drunk driver. But, it could also be a drowsy driver. 

According to the Sleep Foundation, about a third of all motorists in the U.S. have fallen asleep while driving, and 60 percent have driven while feeling drowsy. You do not actually have to nod off to pose a danger to yourself and everyone on the road around you, though. Fatigue can affect you in the same way that alcohol does. 

If you get up at 6 a.m. and go to bed at midnight, you may feel as if the amount of sleep you get is adequate, at least. However, an 18-hour day could lead to impaired driving. In fact, driving after being awake for 18 hours causes the same impairment level as two to three drinks of alcohol, which equates to about a 0.05 percent blood alcohol content. While this is lower than the legal limit, it still impairs judgment, slows reaction times and affects the brain's ability to process information. 

Although drowsy driving may look the same as drunk driving a lot of the time, there are situations where it can cause a much worse accident. A drunk driver may slam on the brakes too late to come to a full stop. A sleeping driver may lean heavily on the gas pedal before hitting another vehicle or object. 

When you know you did not get enough sleep, but you still have to live your life, give yourself some extra time to get where you are going so you can pull off the road and walk around or get some coffee. If you have a sleep disorder or you have challenges to getting seven or eight hours of sleep each night, it is a good idea to try to find someone to carpool with so you can take turns driving and help keep each other alert. This general information is provided for educational purposes and should not replace the advice of an attorney.

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