Fighting Fatigue to Stay Safe

4 min read
Don’t risk getting into an accident — never get behind the wheel if you feel drowsy. Fight fatigue with these three tips.

Singapore is one of the most sleep-deprived nations in the world. A 2016 study on sleep schedules revealed that we sleep the least among the countries surveyed and have the latest bedtime.

Singaporeans are overachievers except when it comes to sleep. A 2016 study by SingHealth Polyclinics found that 44% of people aged between 21 and 80 sleep fewer than seven hours a night on weekdays, while 26% fail to get sufficient sleep on weekends. The health group also discovered that sleep-deprived Singaporeans tend to use mobile devices in bed or in the bedroom, work full-time, and smoke or consume caffeine within two hours of bedtime.

Sleep disorder cases on the rise

Sleep is a period of time when the body rests.A lack of sleep can lead to health problems such as headaches, fatigue, poor focus, hypertension, and anxiety issues.

Dr Kenny Pang, an ENT specialist at Asia Sleep Centre, shares that sleep disorder cases have doubled in the past decade owing to

  • insomnia, where sufferers are tired but cannot sleep
  • obstructive sleep apnoea, where patients struggle to stay awake in the day due to disrupted sleep at night

Tragedies of drowsy driving

One of the biggest safety concerns in the road transport sector today is fatigued driving. It is estimated that 3–30% of vehicle crashes that happen globally are attributed to drowsy driving, but the exact prevalence is not known in Singapore. While this is a concern among the overworked and sleep-deprived, the risk remains under-recognised.

Driving when you are sleepy or fatigued is a serious problem that can lead to car crashes because it impairs concentration, slows down reaction time, reduces vigilance, and delays information processing. Furthermore, you are in danger of falling asleep at the wheel!

Last year, Galistan Aidan Glyn was convicted of causing death by a negligent act. The 28-year old Singaporean was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment and given a five-year driving ban for hitting a pedestrian, who died from her injuries. Galistan had not slept the night before and caused the accident when he lost control of his car.

In another accident the year before, a 21-year-old full-time national serviceman (NSF) died on the spot when he veered off a straight road and crashed into a tree. His five passengers, who were asleep at the time of impact, suffered injuries. The deceased NSF was reported to have stayed up the night before.

These cases are a stern reminder of the importance of good quality sleep so that you are always fresh and alert while driving.

Fending off tiredness

Here are three ways to stay alert:

Stick to a sleep routine
Singaporeans tend to go on overdrive on weekdays, then repay the sleep debt by crashing all weekend. Sleep expert Dr Michael Breus warns against inconsistent sleep routines, which lead to ‘social jet lag’, a lack of mental clarity and increased reliance on caffeinated drinks, alcohol and cigarettes. He encourages lifestyle changes by regulating our body to standard sleeping hours daily, powering down and relaxing — away from mobile devices and screens — before going to bed, and taking holidays to recharge.

Eat your way to better shut-eye
Consuming the right foods can also provide you with quality shut-eye. Consider cherries and nuts, which contain the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin, while kiwis contain a melatonin precursor called serotonin. Chamomile tea’s well-known calming effect is thanks to an antioxidant called apigenin, which binds to anxiety receptors in the brain to initiate sleep.

Take naps to compensate sleep debt
A nap can combat fatigue, leading to improved concentration and productivity for the rest of the day. Dr Tripat Deep Singh, a Philips International Sleep Specialist at the Philips’ Sleep and Respiratory Education Centre, states that power naps can give a quick boost to mood, energy and mental alertness, taking away sleep pressure and leaving you feeling refreshed. As a full sleep cycle lasts around 90 minutes, Dr Singh warns against napping beyond half an hour because that is when the body enters the deep sleep phase — waking in the middle of that phase will leave you groggy and tired.

For most people, the best time to take a nap is in the early to mid-afternoon before 3pm, especially after lunch, when your blood sugar levels have dipped. Napping too late in the day may interfere with your nighttime sleep. The timing differs for individuals with irregular work schedules and lifestyles. According to Dr Lim Li Ling, president of the Singapore Sleep Society, feeling sleepy is physiological, a part of our normal body clock function. We tend to feel sleepy twice a day:

  • in the mid-afternoon, especially if we did not get enough sleep the night before
  • at bedtime

We hope these tips will help you stay alert behind the wheels.