Suddenly jolting awake as you’re nodding off behind the wheel is one of the scariest things that can happen to a driver. If this has ever happened to you, let it be a literal wake up call. You need to take steps to ensure that this never happens again, or worse.
There’s actually a term for the dangerous behavior of driving at the point of falling asleep. It’s called “drowsy driving.” The National Safety Council reports that each year as many as 300,000 crashes are caused by drowsy driving in the U.S.
Who’s most at risk for drowsy driving? Anyone! But especially:
- Younger Drivers – Young drivers have less experience to draw on and often stay out late, which can make for sleepy driving. The National Sleep Foundation says males aged 16-25 are especially at risk.
- Shift Workers – People who work in shifts may be up to six times more likely to be involved in a sleep-related crash. This group includes many gig workers, people working multiple jobs, and those working long or night shifts.
- Commercial Drivers – It’s unfortunate that people who drive a greater distance in one stretch, drive solo, and drive at night have a higher number of accidents from falling asleep at the wheel. They also have a higher risk for sleep disorders.
10 Tips for Staying Awake While at the Wheel
1) Plan Your Driving Time Well
Like anything you do, one of the best ways to make sure things go right instead of awry is to create a plan. When you’re planning your days, think about the commutes needed. Think ahead to make sure that you’ll be making your drives when well-rested. Planning in advance can help you make the best of these other safe driving tips.
2) Prepare Your Car with the Appropriate Distractions from Sleep
You can stow lots of things in your car that can help prevent falling asleep while driving. Keep your eyes open wide and your mind busy with these things:
- Music: Make a mix of rousing tunes in advance to play from your phone or tablet. Check out Spotify.
- Enthralling Audiobooks & Captivating Podcasts: Queue up exciting fiction or your favorite topics on your tablet in advance.
- Earpiece Alarm Devices For a few dollars to around $30, you can try either a Nap Zapper or a Drive Alert Master, which is supposed to buzz you awake if your head bobs down.
3) Avoid Night-Time Driving
Most people are naturally sleepier at night. Also, the scenery is not as vivid when you’re just watching the road, so the drive is more monotonous.
4) Get Familiar with All Your Car Controls and Use Them
If you start to get sleepy, crank up the A/C at full blast in spurts. Or put down the windows for a burst of fresh air. Also, know your Bluetooth for hands-free conversions.
5) Eat Right and Hydrate
Take note: Eating right for staying awake is different from eating for nutrition! You need flavors that will pack a punch and make you sit up for your drive.
The suggested chewable smorgasbord consists of gum (especially cinnamon, or “squirt-gum), Sour Patch Kids, Atomic Fireballs, and other flavors that can wake you up. Try your favorite low-calorie, high-crunch treats, like white cheddar popcorn, Hot Doritos, wasabi peas, or pretzels.
When we talk hydrating, again, it’s about staying awake. Coffee, of course, is de rigueur. But you can also vary up the temperatures and get a mile-high Slurpee at the nearest 7-11. Truly, part of the reason to stay hydrated is to get that on-edge feeling when you need to empty your bladder. (See more about pit stops at #6 & 10.)
You can go for energy drinks, but do be careful about these ingredients–some can cause heart issues when used excessively. (See this article from the National Institutes of Health to be in the know.)
Mountain Dew is a favorite standby for pumping up the alert factor. It both tickles your nose and contains caffeine and comes in regular and diet (as well as some weird, turbo flavors at fountain dispensers, like Mountain Dew Code Red; Pitch Black–only at Speedway gas stations; or Baja Blast, exclusively at Taco Bell).
6) Take Frequent Breaks
If you’re following #6, you’ll undoubtedly need to break up your drive with a few pit stops along a long drive. Taking some 10-minute walks can wake you up as well if it’s a day-time trip that’s causing you drowsiness. AAA recommends that you stop for a rest every 2 hours or 200 kilometers (around 125 miles).
7) Get Companionship
An alternative driver is the best. However, even if another person is not going to split the driving so that you can rest, they can keep you alert with conversation and watch for signs of sleepiness. Sometimes even just having someone else you are concerned about in the car can help.
8) Know Your Route
Ensuring you know where you’re going in advance will avoid unnecessary detours like missed exits that can delay you and make your drive longer.
9) Know the Signs of Drowsy Driving
If you encounter these, skip to Step 10:
- Difficulty keeping your eyes open
- Bobbing or propping your head up
- Repeated yawning
- Rubbing your eyes repeatedly or trouble focusing
- Drifting from your lane, missing signs or exits, or tailgating
- Feeling restless, aggressive, irritable, or excessively lonely
- Slower reaction, poor judgment, or any close calls
10) If You Know You’re Sleepy, Zap It with a Nap
Pull over, stop the car, lock your doors, set your phone alarm for 15 or 20 minutes, and get some shut-eye.
The Last Word
If someone you care about needs some tips on how to stay up and stay safe while driving, please share this article with them.