How To Stay Awake While Driving

Image by pathdoc via Shutterstock

Image by pathdoc via Shutterstock

Zeezus Take The Wheel

Falling asleep while driving is one of the biggest causes of road mishaps, responsible for up to 20% of fatal road accidents. Thousands of lives are tragically lost each year through a biologically profound need for rest. In spite of that, a National Sleep Foundation poll conducted in the U.S. found that 60% of adult drivers admit to have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, with one-third of them actually falling asleep at the wheel.

Dozing off behind the wheel is an insidiously dangerous form of distracted driving, because you can choose to put down your phone, or not attempt to peel a banana while driving, but falling asleep is significantly harder to consciously control.

Risks of Drowsy Driving

While driving asleep might as well mean driving blindfolded, merely being drowsy also impairs your ability to drive safely. Fatigue creates other impairments too, such as:

  1. Poor judgement and decision-making.

  2. Slowed reaction times; loss of situational awareness.

  3. Makes drivers less attentive to the road, and the demands of controlling their vehicle safely.

Causes of Fatigued Driving

A study conducted by the Adelaide Centre for Sleep Research concluded that:

  • A person who has been awake for 17 hours faces the same risk of a crash as a person who has a BAC reading of 0.05 g/100ml. They are therefore twice as likely to have an accident as a person with a zero blood alcohol content who is not fatigued.

  • Drivers who have been awake for 24 hours will have a driving performance similar to a person who has a BAC of 0.1 g/100ml. They are seven times more likely to have an accident.

Aside from getting adequate sleep, other causes include untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia or hypersomnia, people on drowsy medication, alcohol consumption, depression, concussions and poor health.

People who are at higher risk of fatigued driving are young drivers, shift workers, and commercial drivers.

Tips for Fighting Sleepiness on the Road

The general trick is to keep your senses and mind engaged in entertaining and creative ways to ward off mental fatigue.

  1. Put on your favourite music and sing along to it. Crank the volume up!

  2. Have easy to reach and eat snacks to munch on while driving. Nuts and seeds are good for nibbling at on a long drive. Chewing gum also keeps you moving. Keep away from high sugar snacks to avoid the blood sugar crash that will follow.

  3. Caffeine is an effective stimulant, but also a diuretic. So if you’ve had coffee, be sure to keep yourself hydrated. Dehydration can cause fatigue.

  4. Avoid heavy meals before driving. Eating healthy, nourishing foods that will keep you mentally alert will give you the stamina you need for a long drive.

  5. If you don’t have driving company to help keep you engaged, call a friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with.

I’m still falling asleep! Help!

Alas, always having sufficient, quality sleep is sometimes only an ideal one can aspire to. Drivers would, at some point, experience the unrelenting waves of somnolence. If that happens, the safest and most responsible thing to do would be to acknowledge that fighting sleep may well be beyond your control.

  • Pull over safely for a short nap, especially if you are on long distance travel.

  • Get out of the car and get your heart rate up - jumping jacks are especially good to get your blood pumping. Even a brisk 5-10 minute walk would help greatly.

  • Stop for a break and change of pace - do some shoulder rolls and neck stretches, use the toilet, explore the offerings at a rest stop.