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Sleep Deprivation leads to Dozing at the Wheel, Experts State

Update Date: Jun 13, 2014 10:06 AM EDT

Getting enough sleep is vital for overall health. People who suffer from sleep deprivation might have a harder time concentrating and staying awake. In recent news, a Walmart tractor-trailer driver, Kevin Roper, rammed into a limousine van, killing a passenger and injuring four others, including celebrity comedian, Tracey Morgan. According to the officials, Roper had not slept for 24 hours straight. In response to the tragic events that occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike, experts stressed the importance of sleeping the recommended seven to eight hours per night.

"When you are sleep-deprived for more than 24 hours, you need stronger sensory stimulation to maintain alertness," stated Xue Ming, a sleep medicine doctor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, reported by Medical Xpress. "Sensory input such as light, noise and touch keeps people alert, but when there's little stimulation, the brain will drift into a full sleep state or a micro sleep, which can last from a fraction of a second up to 30 seconds. In this state, the person feels like he is awake - he might even still have his eyes open - but he is actually asleep."

Sleep deprivation leads to unsafe driving and increased risk of car accidents. In New Jersey, drowsy sleeping can be penalized. The state's 2003 "Maggie's Law" defines a driver without sleep for more than 24 hours in a row as a reckless driver who has impaired judgment and coordination, slower reaction time and increased aggressiveness. If motorists are found guilty of violating this law, they can face vehicular homicide charges, prison time and a $100,000 fine. Roper has been charged with vehicular homicide as well as four counts of assault by auto.

According to experts, drivers are the most vulnerable to drowsiness between 2am and 4 am, and 1pm and 3pm. At these time points, the body's circadian rhythm, which regulates sleepiness and wakefulness, tends to dip. In order to combat these effects, Ming recommends drivers to take naps, drink caffeinated beverages and use artificial light. Ming added that if drowsiness cannot be controlled via those methods, drivers should avoid getting behind wheel.

Experts hope that with more awareness, drivers will make the smart decision and drive only when they are alert.

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