Everyone knows that falling asleep while driving is extremely dangerous and leads to severe, if not fatal, car accidents every year. What people don’t realize, however, is just how common drowsy driving or falling asleep at the wheel is. The CDC found that 1 in 25 adults (ages 18 or older) had reported falling asleep while driving within the past 30 days. Even scarier, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that there were 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths caused by drowsy driving in 2018. Additionally, the NHTSA believe that 800 deaths is an extremely conservative estimate; they believe the actual death toll would be much higher from approximately 6,000 fatal crashes each year.
Unfortunately, a lot of drivers are not able to recognize how close they are to falling asleep while driving—driving when drowsy is just as dangerous as falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsiness causes slower reaction times and diminishes the driver’s ability to focus and make good decisions.
Because drowsy driving is so dangerous, here are 12 driving tips that can keep you awake while driving; reducing the chance of a fatal or serious accident.
1. Recognizing when you should pull over because of fatigue
The National Sleep Foundation has listed four warning signs that you are falling asleep at the wheel:
- Frequent blinking along with experiencing “heavy eyelids”.
- Catching yourself daydreaming often.
- Can’t remember driving the last few miles – causing you to miss exits or road signs.
- Lane drifting/ hitting the rumble strips.
If you are on a long drive and begin to experience any of these four warning signs, along with an overwhelming amount of fatigue, then you must pull over. You are at a considerable risk of falling asleep at the wheel and putting yourself and others in a life-threatening situation.
2. Get an adequate amount of sleep before the drive
Getting a full 7-8 hours of sleep before a long road trip is the easiest way to combat drowsiness while driving, along with making sure your body and mind are rested for the long trip ahead. Additionally, it is recommended that you drive no more than 10 hours (this is including rest breaks) in one 24 hour period. This recommendation does not change if you are travelling with someone who will also drive, you should still not drive more than 10 hours in a 24 hour period.
Related: Harmful Effects of Staying Up Late
3. Eat a healthy meal before you start driving
Another tip for driving safety is to eat a meal that is high in complex carbohydrates (e.g – peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables) and protein before you start driving, to help you stay awake. Both complex carbohydrates and protein help create long lasting energy that will make fighting off fatigue a much easier battle.
Even though fast food is extremely convenient on long road trips and is equally as delicious, it tends to be high in salt and sugar, both products that can cause drowsiness. While you may feel more alert and energized after eating something with a high sugar content, that high and boost of energy is only temporary. Once the sugar is digested and then absorbed through the bloodstream, you will “crash” and end up being more irritable and fatigued than before. The energy you get from eating foods high in complex carbs and protein is longer lasting and won’t cause a “crash” like most sugary food does.
4. Take advantage of pre-trip naps and mid-trip naps
Some people like to start long trips in the afternoon, usually after they have worked a few hours. Understandably, if you follow this trend you will find yourself having fairly severe fatigue and drowsiness a few hours into your trip. Taking a longer nap a few hours before you leave on your journey may significantly reduce any tiredness that you have just starting out. Another driving tip to help you stay awake is to utilize the mid-trip naps. Mid-trip naps are when you pull over (in a safe location) and take a short nap of around 20-30 minutes, after which you would also wait about 15 more minutes after you wake up to start driving, as you will still be groggy.
Studies have proven, time and time again that short naps, lasting around 20-minutes in duration, can immensely increase your energy levels and alertness. Preferably, you would want to take a short nap when you first start noticing signs of drowsiness — not as a last resort when your driving safety is decreased. While taking a 45-minute detour may seem unappealing, you should remember that it is always better to get to your destination safely than getting to your destination on time.
5. Make sure to regularly switch drivers if you are traveling with someone
This tip can only be used if you are traveling with someone who can also drive. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you always travel with a partner on long trips to drastically decrease your risk of falling asleep at the wheel. Furthermore, the NSF advises that you pull over every 2 hours to switch drivers, allowing the other driver to take a quick nap until it is time to switch back. Even if you are unable to switch drivers every 2 hours, having another person to help keep you alert and focused while driving is always a good idea.
6. Don’t drive between midnight and 6 a.m.
Another driving safety tip from the NHS! They advise everyone not to drive between midnight and 6 a.m. The reasoning behind this suggestion is because of our body’s natural biological rhythm that runs on a 24-hour clock. Our biological clock has us sleeping from midnight until 6 a.m., meaning that sleepiness will be at its peak of intensity during this time frame. Obviously, we aren’t always able to follow this suggestion, which is when you should utilize the other various driving safety suggestions listed here.
7. Drink substances high in caffeine
Drinking substances high in caffeine is very well-known secret that may help you stay awake while driving. Beverages that are highly caffeinated can boost your alertness and energy on long and boring drives. It is important to note, however, that caffeine is only a temporary fix, and preferably should be used to help get you through the last leg of your trip.
The website “Caffeine Informer” explains that caffeine is absorbed relatively quickly; 99% of caffeine is absorbed into your body 45-minutes after you ingest it. Even further, the half-life of caffeine (i.e. how long the effects last) is around 4-6 hours after ingestion, which explains why most energy drinks are marketed to last anywhere from 4-6 hours. Some of the best examples for drinks containing a higher amount of caffeine include coffee (without sugar) and energy drinks (e.g. Monster, Red Bull, Nos, etc. ).
You are able to become tolerant to caffeine, meaning that neither your alertness nor your focus will increase with drinking coffee, and you will not feel less fatigued. In these instances, you would have to drink more than the recommended dose of caffeine, which can be considered dangerous. If you do drink too much caffeine, you may have anxiety and jitteriness, which may harm your driving ability more than help.
8. Get out and move
Because you are sitting for a prolonged period of time while driving, you are more likely to become bored — leading to inattentiveness, daydreaming, and even tiredness. It is recommended to pull over every few hours (preferably at a gas station or rest area), get out of your car, and move. Get out and walk around the area you pulled over at, stretch out your legs and arms, and get that blood pumping. Obviously, you don’t have to exercise to get the blood pumping, but just getting out and walking around can help increase alertness and stave off fatigue.
9. Listen to music
Listening to music is an easy fix to keep yourself awake on long road trips, and arguably one of the easiest driving tips in this list. You should listen to lively, up-beat, and fast tempo songs, as they induce a more energized atmosphere. Crank that music all the way up too, as the loud noise can jolt you awake. Listening to relaxing and slow songs is not recommended, as they will make you relax and more prone to falling asleep while driving.
10. Do annoying things to yourself
I know this tip sounds crazy, but doing annoying things to keep you awake actually works. You can try rubbing your tongue against your teeth or the roof of your mouth, pinching/pulling your earlobe, biting your cheek or your tongue, etc. basically anything that will make you uncomfortable can help you stay awake while driving. This tip is especially useful if you find yourself beginning to nod off in an area that is not suitable for you to pull over at. Using various methods that will make you uncomfortable, such as pinching yourself, will help keep you awake until you can pull over in a safe environment.
11. Try driver alertness devices that are designed to keep you awake
There are an overabundance of devices on Amazon that are designed to help drivers stay awake on long drives. Here is a device that is marketed to increase driving safety. It fits around the ear and will sound an alarm if they suspect the driver is falling asleep. However, it is battery operated and includes an on/off switch.
12. Try Alert Drops
The final driving tip that can help you combat drowsy driving is to try Alert Drops. This product is a “100% natural wake-up aid”. It is a fine mist of concentrated lemon juice that can be sprayed on your tongue for added alertness. This product is supposedly inspired by Dr. Henry Heimlich (the doctor who created the Heimlich maneuver) who ate lemons on long drives to combat drowsy driving. Additionally, Alert Drops have been recognized by the US Congress, the California State Congress, and the City of Los Angeles, for the impact they have had on driving safety concerns. This product has no caffeine or stimulants in its formula and is doctor recommended.
In conclusion, there are various methods and tips that can help you fight off fatigue and keep an optimal level of driving safety. Besides the driving tips mentioned here, there are also an overabundance of technology and substances that can keep you awake while driving on long road trips.
Statistics have proven how dangerous drowsy driving can be, even if you aren’t falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving can have the same life-threatening consequences as actually falling asleep; with marked decreases in alertness, focus, and reaction time. Even scarier, is how many adults have reported falling asleep while driving within the previous 30 days (1 in 25). The tips listed here are easy ways to raise your driving safety and prevent you from becoming another statistic from drowsy driving.