How to Keep Yourself Awake While Driving?
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Are you wondering how to keep yourself awake while driving? Then, this article is for you. We want to talk about traffic safety, so our focus will be on people who have to drive at night and are feeling drowsy.
The first thing we should note that it’s always better to stop and get much-needed sleep, especially if you’re driving long distances. You need to take rest breaks and recharge, so you can avoid dozing off at the wheel. Sleep deprivation shouldn’t be taken lightly!
Before we get in-depth about this topic, let’s mention a couple of things:
- A lot of people believe they can control themselves and stop from falling asleep, but the truth is that they can’t. If you’re exhausted, you can doze off anytime and anywhere. Sleep is a powerful biological need that can overtake even the best drivers. That’s why it’s so dangerous to drive when you’re tired.
- Don’t put yourself in risky situations by driving when you’re sleep-deprived, especially if you’re traveling at night, alone, riding long rural highways, taking medicines that cause sleeplessness. Get a good night’s sleep (and stop racing thoughts that lead to sleepless nights) before the big trip you’re taking.
- You mustn’t, of course, drive when you’re drinking alcohol because you’re more likely to get in a car crash under the influence.
- Quick tricks for staying awake while driving such as turning up the radio volume won’t help you if you’re sleep-deprived and you’ll be just putting your and other people’s lives in danger.
Why is drowsy driving dangerous?
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Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Making split decisions every second and reacting to other participants in the traffic is a regular part of driving experience. A person struggling not to fall asleep has a slower reaction time and his/her brain is not optimal for making those decisions.
Effectiveness of functions such as accuracy of eyesight, reaction to sounds/lights, depth perception, or the ability to judge the speed, is reduced when the driver is tired and sleepy. This leads to accidents more often which is why drowsy driving endangers the driver’s and other people’s lives.
Everyone is at risk of drowsy driving, but certain groups are at bigger risk. For example, people who are coming back from the night shift at work, people who are driving alone for long periods, and the people struggling with sleeping disorders can be in dangerous traffic situations more often due to sleep deprivation and drowsiness.
Did you know?
Only 22% said they pull over to nap when feeling drowsy. Older adults are more likely to pull over than younger drivers, who perhaps underestimate the dangers.
Methods for safe driving
Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to be safe in traffic. The first thing you should do is to never drive when you’re tired – try to find alternative modes of transportation in that situation. The night before the long drives, you should get enough sleep hours (7 is a minimum). If you have to drive and you’re feeling tired, consider this:
Take a nap
Don’t underestimate the power of naps. Naturally, nothing can be a substitute for a good night’s sleep, but a 20 minutes nap will give you a nice boost. Short naps (15-30 minutes) will increase your short-term alertness, improve your mood, and help you refresh. Avoid sleeping for longer than half an hour, so you don’t fall into deep sleep.
You can take a pre-drive nap, just before a road trip or you can take a mid-drive nap. Once you start to feel drowsy, pull over, and get to a safe location and take a short nap of 20 minutes. After you wake up, stretch your legs and walk for 10 minutes, so you won’t be groggy when you drive.
Drive with a buddy
Buddy system is very helpful and this is a common strategy used by professional bus and truck drivers. You can use it when coming home from work too. Carpooling is not only a money saver, but it can be a lifesaver if you’re tired and sleepy after work.
When you’re taking a long trip, share the driving responsibility with a partner. It’s suggested you switch with your body every 2-4 hours, so you can rest or take a nap. Not only you’ll have a chance to snooze in the passenger seat, but you can also chat with your buddy, which is also a very effective way to stay awake.
Other tips to stay alert while driving
As we said, the most important thing is to be rested and sleep enough the day before. However, we still get tired quickly, so here are some other things to do to stay awake while driving:
When you’re trying to stay awake while driving at night, it’s all about time management. Plan your time wisely. If it’s possible try to avoid being behind the wheel in the middle of the night. You’re more likely to feel sleepy at 2 am than 2 pm.
Don’t begin the trip late in the evening because driving at night when you usually sleep increases the chance that you’ll feel tired. It’s best if you start driving when you’re fresh, maybe in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
Go on a trip a couple of hours earlier, so you have enough time to reach your destination without driving fast and having breaks. Fast driving gets very tiring because it requires more focus. Just go slower than usual and take your time.
This should go without saying, but we need to note it anyway. Drinking alcohol will enhance drowsiness and reduce your driving ability. It’s illegal to drive under the influence for a reason.
You shouldn’t also consume alcohol the night before your drive too. Drinking can prevent your body from entering the REM sleep stage, so there’s a high chance you won’t be well-rested for your long trip tomorrow.
Never underestimate the value of breaks. They allow you to take a nap and get recharged. If you don’t nap on breaks, you can go for a walk and stretch your legs a bit. Taking breaks in a bright well-lit environment can also delay tiredness. Using phones or laptops and being in very bright places can also shake you up enough to stay awake while driving long distances.
Eat a healthy meal
Although grabbing a meal from fast-food restaurants seems more convenient, the fat, salt, and sugar in that food can make you tired very fast. You need to eat healthy food full of complex carbohydrates and protein that can give you long-lasting energy.
Get as many whole grains, lean meats, fruits, and veggies in your diet, so you can keep yourself awake while driving. Also, don’t forget about vitamins. If you don’t eat food rich in vitamins, get at least vitamin B and C supplements and you’ll have even more energy.
Caffeine & water
Coffee helps a bit, but don’t forget to drink water too. You need to stay fresh and hydrated because dehydration leads to fatigue and tiredness. Naturally, you don’t have to drink tons of water or you’ll have to stop every ten minutes for a bathroom break, but take small simps every once in a while. You can also splash cold water in your face anytime.
Caffeine does improve alertness, but the effects will wear off after some time. Also, caffeine is a diuretic and increased consumption can lead to dehydration. If you’re drinking coffee a lot, make sure you drink water more.
Chewing gum helps to some extent to stay awake while driving in the morning. When you have a gum in your mouth, you’re less likely to yawn and doze off. Make sure to get sugar-free guns though. As we said, the sugar rush is very short and it leads to sleepiness.
Cold fresh air can surely help you stay awake while driving at night. It’s not a magical solution, but opening the windows and letting the cool air in can go a long way. You can also open the rear window, so you can create a flow and get a blast of cold air.
This especially works if the temperature in your car is high. When you’re warm and lack oxygen, it’s easier to doze off. Just open a window to keep the temperature low and let the cold air shock you a bit so you stay awake.
It’s better to have a light headache than to feel drowsy by taking painkillers. Avoid any type of medication that is linked to drowsiness. Unless you need medications as a part of your regular therapy, you’re better off without them on your trip.
Avoid unhealthy snacks
We can’t stress enough that sugar leads to drowsiness. Sure, you’ll get a temporary boost but the subsequent insulin spike will increase your drowsiness significantly. We know that it’s tempting to indulge in sugary snacks, but we’re talking about your safety here. Wait until the end of the trip to get the treats you really want.
To avoid a sugar crash, choose healthier snacks such as a banana or a handful of nuts. Any kind of food that will give you gradual energy release and maintain your blood sugar levels is okay in our book.
Listen to a Podcast
Pick an interesting podcast (or an audiobook), so you can stay alert. Being engaged in the conversation or the book will help you more than listening to melodic beats. Your brain needs to be active, so give it something to think about.
Exercise during breaks
We don’t mean full-blown cardio workouts but some light stretches or short walks will help immensely. You just need to get your blood pumping, so you can shake off drowsiness. Stretching will also help you with back pain and muscle aches caused by sitting in the car all the time.
Signs of sleepiness
You might you’re alert and doing okay, but the truth is you’re tired and you need to notice the signs of sleepiness. You’re at risk of dozing off at the wheel if you:
- Can’t remember the last few miles you passed or you miss exits/traffic signs.
- Have wandering and disconnected thoughts.
- Can’t keep your eyes open, or your eyelids feel heavy and you blink all the time.
- Have trouble keeping your head up.
- Yawn or rub your eyes repeatedly.
- Feel restless and irritable.
Time to pull over
If you experience any of the signs mentioned about, pull over to a safe place! Park, lock your doors and take a nap. You need to protect yourself (and other people in the traffic) and do the responsible thing. You’re never in that much of a hurry that you can’t take a 20-minute nap.
Consider other modes of transportation
If you can’t stop yourself from falling asleep in the car, you should either stop and rest or consider other modes of transportation. You can ask a coworker to hitch a ride, walk home, take a bus or a subway, or call a taxi.
Frequently asked questions
Why do I get so sleepy when I drive?
You get sleepy when you’re driving because you haven’t slept enough the previous night or you’re driving during the night. You can also feel drowsy if you’re taking some medication, drink alcohol, or have an untreated sleep disorder.
How can I drive without getting tired?
First and foremost get a good night’s sleep before going on a trip. Take regular breaks during the drive, and share the driving wherever possible.
We hope this article explained how to keep yourself awake while driving. In the end, all it matters is that you’re well-rested before going on a trip. When you notice you’re getting too tired, pull over and take a break or nap.
Although it’s not always possible, try to go to bed early if you need to get up early, so you won’t be tired for your trip tomorrow.
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