In my research for yesterday’s post on our profound sleep crisis, I came across some startling work from Dr. William Dement of Stanford University’s Center of Excellence for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Disorders.
I had to tell you about it.
So many times in my life so far, in order to get somewhere that was important to me, I have continued to drive while feeling drowsy. It’s often seemed to me to be not too bad. ‘Just a little further’, I tell myself. Wind the windows down. Put some music on. Grip the wheel. Sip some water. I’ll soon be there.
Dr Dement tells us we must treat drowsiness – which so many of us experience while driving – not as a sign of being a little tired but as a red alert, as the last step before falling asleep, not the first.
‘Drowsiness’, he tells us, ‘means you are seconds away from sleep.’
Although I say to myself I take safe driving seriously, I really didn’t understand the seriousness of this before. And I am shaken by the possible consequences of my self-reassurance, my denial of the seriousness of the situation, and my turning away from the wisdom of my own body.
Surely this, if anything, is a call to wake up.
‘Imagine what it could mean’, Dement says, ‘when you’re behind the wheel of a car driving on the highway. Drowsiness may mean you are seconds from a disaster.’
He continues – ‘If everyone responded as if it were an emergency when they became aware of feeling drowsy, an enormous amount of human suffering and catastrophic events would be avoided … Seconds away from sleep may mean seconds away from death.’
You can read more of Dr. Dement’s work on his website here, or read about his work and that of many others in the sleep section of Tony Schwartz’s wonderful book Be Excellent at Anything (previously titled The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working).