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How To Stay Awake While Driving Long Distances or At Night

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, each year in the US alone, drowsy driving accounts for some 328,000 crashes, of which about 6,400 are fatal while 109,000 resulted in an injury. You might previously thought it’s not a big issue, however studies have found that drowsiness is as dangerous as drunk driving. Thus, knowing how to stay awake while driving might be more important than you think. 

Avoid falling asleep while driving at night or while driving long distances, which is pretty common, require strategies, preparation and tools. Read on to pocket the most handy tips for staying awake while driving, including when to stop driving and what to do when you start to feel sleepy behind the wheels

how to stay awake while driving
Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.

Dangers of drowsy driving

Studies have found that drowsy driving causes similar impairments to drivers compared to drunk driving. While drunk driving causes some 11,000 deaths annually in the US, drowsy driving is not far behind with around 6,400 fatal crashes. 

The first step in knowing how to stay awake while driving is actually being aware of the danger associated with drowsy driving. Remember that this silly-sounding cause is the culprit of thousands of deaths every year, and don’t underestimate the importance of staying awake while driving.

falling asleep while driving crashes
Drowsy driving causes 6,400 fatal crashes per year in the US alone.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 50% of adult drivers in the US admit that they would drive despite feeling sleepy. More than 40% admitting this has happened at least once since they started to drive. It’s more common than you would think. 

Like drunk driving, drowsy driving causes impairment to sleepy drivers with regards to eyesight, ability to assess speed and distance, reaction time to sounds, lights and motions, blood pressure and heart rate.

If you find yourself constantly falling asleep behind the wheels to an abnormal extent, you should consult your doctor to make sure the cause of this condition is not some illness, such as sleep apnea.

How to stay awake while driving

Avoid driving at night

At night, especially late at night, your body clock automatically makes your whole body and brain go into the “sleep/rest” mode. You will not be as alert as during the day, thus avoid driving late. If you have to get somewhere, take a cab or Lyft and Uber.

stay awake while driving at night
It’s harder to stay awake while driving at night.

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Take a short nap before driving

The best way to stay awake while driving is good preparation, that is having enough sleep the night before a long trip or if this is not possible, try to take a short nap at least before the drive. 

Studies have found that even a 15 to 30-minute nap can put you into REM mode, which is sufficient to keep you awake, alert and also more relaxed while driving. 

Put on some music

This method is simple but effective. Find some tunes you’re familiar with that’s not too sad, too heavy or loud which makes you feel lively and uplifted. 

how to stay stay awake while driving
Putting on some tunes is a great way to stay stay awake while driving.

Have a companion

Casually chatting with your companion works wonders on avoiding falling asleep while driving. This is not enough to distract you from your paying attention to your surroundings and controlling your car, however will require some effort from your brain to keep the conversation going. 

how to stay stay awake while driving
Casual chatting can ease your sleepiness.

In other words, making your brain work will in a way make it forget that it’s sleepy. In addition, having passengers in your car will increase your awareness of responsibility, thus will help you to drive more cautiously and safely. 

Have some caffeine

Studies have found that even just one cup of caffeine can significantly reduce your chances of falling asleep while driving and reduce the likelihood of crashes during long drives. Have some before you go, or stop over a convenience store or gas station to sip some coffee and stretch your legs a bit. 

Have some snacks

Similar to how chewing some chewing gum while being stressed out can effectively recover your heart rate and blood pressure, preparing some snacks beforehand to munch on the road can distract your brain and make it temporarily forget the drowsiness.

avoid falling asleep while driving coffee
Grab some coffee and snack at a convenience store on the way.

When to stop driving

Knowing how to stay awake while driving is not enough. Knowing when to stop driving is just as important. Remember, it’s far better to reach your destination late than not arriving there at all. 

If you have one or more of these signs, you should stop driving as soon as possible to get some caffeine or something to make you feel more refreshed and alert:

  • You yawn frequently and uncontrollably. This alone might not be too alarming but if on top of this, you start to “nod off” or cannot keep your head up, you should stop driving immediately. 
  • Your eyelids feel so heavy you have to try hard to open your eyes.
  • You cannot focus on what’s happening in front of and around you. Your mind is constantly wandering, or you have no memory of driving during the last few miles.
  • You drive erratically. You miss road signs and turns, you suddenly realize that you’ve driven over a rumble strip or suddenly find yourself in the wrong lane.

What to do when you feel sleepy behind the wheels

If you have the above symptoms, do not carry on driving. Pull over at the nearest possible stop or gas station to wash your face, have some coffee or refreshing cold drinks and grab some snacks to munch on the way. 

Most importantly, get some fresh air outside and stretch your legs, or better yet, sprint. Some physical activities will increase your blood flow to your brain, making you feel more awake and refreshed.

If you can, pull over somewhere quiet and get a short 30 minute nap. This can be a life saver. 

stay awake while driving short nap
If you’re too drowsy to drive, stop and take a nap.

The key takeaway here is that drowsy driving is no less dangerous than drunk driving, the consequences of which is dire. Equip yourself with these handy tips to know how to stay awake while driving, pull over and get some rest on the way.  

If you’re severely sleep deprived and you think you should not drive on a particular day, it’s best to consider other transportation modes like buses, taxis, Lyft and Uber, or work from home that day. 

Make sure you drive cautiously, especially when feeling drowsy, by consulting these top 5 defensive driving tips.