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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why People Fall Asleep at the Wheel

I have fallen asleep at the wheel of my car stone cold sober.

Years ago, I was visiting my dad in Fort Lauderdale at the height of spring break and coming back from meeting a friend for dinner. I was drinking Coke. Yet I fell asleep and my car went through a red light and then luckily I woke up.

But there were police everywhere and they stopped me, made me get out of the car and walk a straight line then take a breathalizer test. They were shocked that I hadn't been drinking. It was late and I had gotten there the day before, after staying up very late for a couple of nights to finish a paper that was due before break. I was just really tired.

So imagine what it must be like for someone who has had a couple or more drinks and decides to get behind the wheel of a car.

The science of why we fall asleep at the wheel is useful to know. It's also important for explaining to your teen why drinking and driving are a really deadly combination.

Drinking alcohol can harm a teen’s ability to reason and weigh options instead of just doing something because it is fun or feels good.

The cerebellum works with the primary motor cortex to control movement, balance, and
complex motor function. Drinking alcohol can decrease motor function and slow reaction time. When drunk, you may not be able to stand or walk a straight line.

The frontal lobe controls judgment, behavior, and emotion. Alcohol may change your
emotions leading to crying, fighting, or a desire to be close to someone else.
The medulla controls heartbeats, breathing, and other functions. These may slow or stop working during heavy drinking, endangering your life.

Neurons connect nerve cells in different parts of the brain. Alcohol is a depressant that slows those connections.

Blood vessels in your brain can swell when you’ve been drinking, causing pressure that results in severe headaches.

The reticular activating system controls sleeping and waking. Alcohol abuse can depress these systems, causing you to pass out.

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