Do you drink and drive? How often? Most people would be offended by these questions, and rightfully so – who in their right mind would drive drunk and put himself and everyone around him in danger?! And yet, when asked if they drive while extremely tired, most people cheerfully reply with a “Yes!”, as if they’re proud of being able to drive while barely keeping their eyes open. But did you know that driving while in a state of light drowsiness can be as dangerous as drunk driving? It’s true – and sometimes, it can be even more dangerous. In fact, according to the Transport Accident Commission, around 20% of all fatal road accidents involve driver fatigue. To put things into perspective, that was more than 840 deaths in the U.S. in 2014 due to drowsy driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, it’s also worth noting that these statistics are underestimated – in reality, there are around 6,000 fatal crashes each year due to drowsy driving!
Clearly, tired driving is something you want to avoid at all costs, for your own sake and for the sake of everyone else involved in traffic. The only problem? There is a reason why drowsy driving is so common – oftentimes, people just can’t help it. Maybe you just finished a long night shift at work, or you’ve had a few late nights in a row with little sleep, or you have a new baby in the house; whatever it is, it’s easy to overestimate your brain’s ability to stay awake and alert for long periods of time. In fact, sleep – the thing your brain craves the most while tired – is an incredibly powerful biological drive that can overtake even the most experienced driver out there. So, what to do if you start feeling the tug of sleepiness while in the middle of a road? First, try to recognize the signs on time, and then, apply some of our tips and tricks on how to stay awake while driving.
Telltale Signs You’re Becoming Too Tired to Drive
The worst part about drowsy driving is not being able to tell you’re too tired to drive. But being able to recognize the signs of drowsiness is vital in preventing car accidents. Take a look at the most common warning signs.
- Frequent blinking or heavy eyelids
- Yawning repeatedly
- Difficulty focusing on the road
- Inability to remember driving the last couple of miles
- Difficulty keeping your eyes open and your head up
- Slower reaction time
- Missing road signs or turns
- Drifting from your lane.
If you start experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s imperative you pull over for a break (if possible) or start doing something to prevent falling asleep behind the wheel.
Tips and Tricks on How to Stay Awake While Driving
To ensure road safety for you and the people around you, apply some of our simple tips on how to stay awake while driving even if you’re feeling fatigued. But before we get into the details on how to fix the already broken situation (you, exhausted, behind the wheel), let’s talk about how to prevent it in the first place.
- Get some proper sleep: this one is obvious, but seriously, get some proper sleep before driving! You’d be surprised at the number of people who get less than seven, let alone eight hours of sleep a night (one in three adults, in case you’re wondering). Of course, sometimes it’s not possible to sleep soundly for full eight hours a night, but luckily, there’s a fine remedy for that – napping. If you know you haven’t had a proper sleep last night but you have to drive for an extended period of time, take a short nap before hitting the road. Around 20 minutes is all it takes for your body and brain to recuperate, so make sure you get that short power-nap if you haven’t slept well or long enough the night before.
- Bring a friend with you: if you know haven’t had a good night’s sleep but a long drive is ahead of you, bring a friend with you, if at all possible. The buddy system works great because you always have somebody by your side who can warn you when you start showing signs of being too tired to drive. Plus, you can always share some of the driving – when you’re too tired, get a short nap and let your friend take the wheel.
- Eat well: a healthy meal before the drive will fuel your body and provide you with enough energy to stay awake and alert. Eat some light protein, whole grains, and a few healthy fats – but don’t go overboard! A very large meal will actually make you sleepy, so have a small but healthy meal and take the leftovers with you if you can.
- Drink coffee: it’s no secret that caffeine improves alertness and focus, so grab a cup of regular black coffee (no sugar as you don’t want a sugar crash!) and sip while driving. Be aware though that the effects of caffeine wear out after a couple of hours so you may need two or even three cups, depending on the length of your journey.
- Turn on the radio: if you’re traveling alone (and even if you aren’t), it’s a good idea to keep your brain active by listening to music. Make sure it’s not low and slow though, but lively and loud enough to keep you awake. Better yet – sing along!
- Snack: if you have any of those healthy leftovers, now is the time to snack on them. If not, eat some fruit, nuts or dark chocolate. Any snack will do, even a bubble gum, as long as it’s not high in sugar as you don’t want those blood glucose spikes that just end up making you feel even more sleepy. Also, remember to hydrate.
- Take a break: finally, if all else fails, take a break from driving. Pull over and make sure you’re in a safe location and either stretch a little and walk around or have a short power-nap. A 15-20 minute nap can prevent serious accidents and even save lives, so don’t feel like you’ll be wasting your time napping. Do remember though that you’ll probably feel groggy for about 10 minutes after waking up, so don’t start driving immediately!
- How To Stay Awake On The Road: Tips To Combat Drowsy Driving, National Sleep Foundation