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3 Ways to Stay Awake At the Wheel

Updated on December 19, 2017
cam8510 profile image

Out of personal experience, Chris writes practical and helpful articles about how to make items and accomplish tasks.

Drowsy While Driving? Get Off the Road


Drowsy Driving: A Personal Example

Most of us wouldn't even consider getting behind the wheel of a car after having too much to drink. But do we have the same attitude about driving when we are tired and drowsy?

I was driving from Philadelphia to my mother’s home in northern Indiana recently. I had gotten up that morning at 4:00 am and gone to work. After work, I went back to my apartment to pack for my trip.

I wasn’t simply taking a weekend trip, though. My contract job in Philly was at and end, and I was on my way to my next job in southern Oregon. To say the least, by 8:00 pm, when I finished packing my truck, I was exhausted. I decided to get two or three hours driving under my belt, so off I went down the PA Turnpike toward Ohio and Indiana, and it didn’t take long for the total package of my circumstances to produce negative results.

  • I had been awake since 4:00 am, 16 hours, by the time I started driving.
  • I had mentally taxed myself at work.
  • I had physically taxed myself by packing for 6 hours. I was living in a third floor apartment with no elevator.

I’ve played around with a variety of ways to stay awake and alert while driving long distances, and that night, I needed all of them to make it to the nearest hotel room outside Harrisburg, PA.

Scary Moments in Drowsy Driving

Three Ways to Combat Drowsy Driving and Falling Asleep While Driving

1. Laugh Hysterically

2. Yell Loudly

3. Sing Badly

Jim Gaffigan-Hot Pockets

Laugh Hysterically....LOL

Laugh. Laugh out loud. Laugh hysterically. No, you don’t need to be listening to Jim Gaffigan doing his comedy routine about Hot Pockets in order to laugh like this. All you need to do is force yourself to laugh. Mimic laughing. Fake it. It will have the effect of giving you a rush of energy and wakefulness.

Just be aware, that if people in other cars see you doing this, you may get some strange stares. But that may just give you more to laugh about.

Funny Road Signs

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Yell Loudly.....At Everything

Yell. Yell loudly. Yell hysterically. Have you ever been tired while driving, when someone cuts you off or otherwise makes you angry? The result is that you are suddenly awake. Since that worked, why not simply fake being angry? Yell at anything another driver does, even if it’s the fact that he drives a model of car you don’ t like. Yell at the driver for going the speed limit. Yell at him for speeding.

Yell at road signs and billboards. Make fun of them, ridicule them. I saw a sign during my drive that said “Deer Crossing.” I had a great time with that one. I began by laughing hysterically (#1). Then I yelled about how stupid it was to put up that sign, because deer can’t read. I yelled about the futility of trying to get deer to cross at the location of the sign because deer aren’t going to cross where you tell them to, they’ll cross where they want to cross.

The sign you yell at can be perfectly reasonable, or it can be one that seems a bit strange. I saw one recently that simply said “Bear left.” I like animals, so I pretended I had driven a long way just to see a bear. I yelled about the fact that I might as well go home, since the bear had already left.

No Excuse for Drowsy Driving and Falling Asleep While Driving

There is no excuse for staying on the road when you are simply too tired to drive. You put yourself and others in danger. Driving while tired is no better than driving drunk.

Carpool Karaoke

Sing Badly

Sing. Sing loudly. Sing badly. Music on the radio can be helpful, but it may be too familiar and predictable to be effective when you are really sleepy. Try turning the radio off and singing an old favorite as a solo. Sing as loudly as you can. Then change it a bit by singing off key on purpose. You may already sing off key, but make it worse. Loud and bad….those are the key points. Change the lyrics slightly just to make the experience even more absurd.

One of my favorites is “Home, Home on the Range.” I change it to “Roam, Roam on my phone.” It doesn’t have to make sense in order to work. You do realize how embarrassing this is for me to admit, don’t you? But the point is, it works. I am suddenly awake and alert.

Adrenaline: A stress hormone produced within the adrenal gland that quickens the heart beat, strengthens the force of the heart's contraction, and opens up the bronchioles in the lungs, among other effects. The secretion of adrenaline is part of the human 'fight or flight' response to fear, panic, or perceived threat. Also known as epinephrine.

Physical Effects of a Natural Epinephrine / Adrenaline Release

Why do these silly, absurd techniques actually work at helping me stay awake while driving when I’m sleepy? It’s common knowledge that natural substances in our bodies, known as neurotransmitters, can cause emotional responses. An increase in adrenaline, aka epinephrine, can cause alertness and even panic attacks. But the flip side is that strong emotional responses can cause an increase in neurotransmitters, including epinephrine. Epinephrine has the following physical effects:

  • Vasoconstriction (shrinking) of certain blood vessels, promoting increased blood pressure.
  • Vasodilation (expanding) of specific blood vessels to transport blood to key parts of the body.
  • Increases the heart rate.
  • Opens up air passages of the lungs.
  • Enlarges the pupil of the eye.
  • Maximizes blood glucose levels, especially to the brain.

The reason the body works like this is so that when we encounter stressful situations, our metabolism changes to move us into the classic “fight or flight” response. Stressful situations cause the body to produce the needed neurotransmitters/hormones such as epinephrine/adrenaline which in turn make us more alert and ready for action.

Fake It

The adrenal gland, which produces epinephrine, doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between an authentic stressful situation and a fake one.


Fake It Till You Make It To the Long Term Fix

What I am suggesting, is that rather than waiting for a stressful period of heightened emotional activity, create your own. Fake a strong emotional response. The point is, the adrenal gland, which produces epinephrine, doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between an authentic stressful situation and a fake one.

Take advantage of that while driving alone when you are tired. Laugh hysterically, Yell loudly, Sing badly. You will immediately be more alert and awake. But be careful. The effects of adrenaline/epinephrine last a very short time, so these techniques should only be seen as ways of helping you achieve the goals of getting off the road and getting proper rest.

Get Off the Road

Seriously, if you are falling asleep while driving, get off the road, immediately


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    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      You've managed to make the serious seriously funny, Chris. It's scary when one tries to push oneself to drive just that little bit further. I took part in a national rally once when 3 of us took it in turns to navigate, drive, sleep. My turn to sleep was preceded by hallucinations; I saw all sorts of things crossing the road! We did not stop until we reached the top of Scotland.

      I often sing loudly to keep awake. Laughter and singing also put you in a great mood.

      Funny but instructive, this is great advice but, as you say, the best advice is 'Get off the road!'


    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Deb, Glad that ended as it did rather than much worse. I rolled my fiat outside Effingham, Illinois in 1977 on my way to your fair state to live. Rolled it three times on the interstate after falling asleep. Like you, mine was the only car involved and I was unscathed physically. This is how we learn life's lessons.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I once fell asleep at the wheel. It didn't end well, but I was mostly OK. Could have been a lot worse. It taught me that being awake for midnight shifts was not conducive to good living. Nobody else was involved, and all I got out of it was a broken rib or two.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Larry, You are so right that just getting off the road is the best answer. I'm glad you enjoyed the writing.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Just getting off the road is best. This hub was a real fun read.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Lawrence, if the passengers begin throwing things at you for the bad singing, it will be even harder to fall asleep. So I say, sing away. Thanks for stopping in and commenting on this article.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      My best one is coffee. For a long drive a good long filter coffee and keep the car on the cold side of things! If you're cold you're uncomfortable and its harder to fall asleep. Also stop every half hour and get out of the car for a walk round it then climb back in.

      Great advice. I won't try the singing though as I might was wake my passengers :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Bear Left*

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Thanks Frank. I just spent four days using these techniques. They actually work. I left Philly, and now I am in southern Oregon. I'm glad that drive is over, although I did enjoy seeing the width of the country again.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      6 years ago from Shelton

      first of all I love the first sign..LOL and keeping awake is so important because you may end up sleeping forever..great hub and good idea too

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      peachpurple, I'm practicing that very thing as I drive from shore to shore over the next few days. Philadelphia to Oregon.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Kirsten, glad your friend is ok. Thanks for sharing when you get a chance.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Thanks Christine, good comment.

    • peachpurple profile image


      6 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      getting off the road is the best way. But sometimes, talking can make the driver occupied.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Actually, I will have to share when I'm on a PC, apparently the share button is no longer available to mobile devices :(

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Wow, this is super important to share! I have a friend who fell asleep driving cross-state when she was in college and got into a bad accident. Thank God she is just fine today, but what a scary and preventable thing-not just for you but for other drivers.

      Sharing :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Somehow my full comment got cut off, maybe a signal drop, here it is again:


      My favorite: Deer Left.

      A wordsmiths approach to keeping your hub cap on the road; surely you address a scary moment. It's unlikely that a solution to stand-up to stay awake would be considered; however your advice carries a comic approach that may drive a good set on stage; keeping awake a seated audience.



    • profile image


      6 years ago


      A wordsmiths approach to keeping your hub cap on the road.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Bill, I learned my lesson the hard way as a young driver. I pull over now asap. Thanks for reading.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 years ago from Gondwana Land

      Great tips here Cam, and I admit I have tried a few of these myself. In my case I often make up silly songs and sing as I drive...luckily no one else can hear, my singing voice is not the best. I like the suggestion to laugh at road signs and yell at things for no reason. I have written a hub about this subject and it is a very real problem for most of us. Voted up.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Although this is a very serious topic, I had to laugh to myself picturing you acting like an idiot all alone in your truck. But, hey - whatever works, right? I'm glad you had sense enough to get off the road and get some sleep.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Been there, done that. A scary thing to find yourself crossing lanes and you snap awake suddenly. Good and fun suggestions to a deadly problem, Chris.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Eric, after I made that 12 hour drive from Philly to Indiana, I was totally exhausted. I had to whip out this article about my insane, but effective techniques. Anything to either wake people up or get them to pull off the road. Thanks for reading.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      6 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I used to fight this problem. Now I have some trouble falling asleep in the normal. So now when I feel all sleepy and drowsy driving I happily pull over and fall into that sweet slumber.

      Thank you much for writing this hub, the subject needs all the attention we can give it. Drowsy driving kills -- it is as simple as that. Stay alert, Stay alive.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Venkatachari M, Yes, most definitely romantic songs. And anything else that keeps the eyelids up and the brain turned on. Thanks for reading and for adding your thoughts to this subject.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      6 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting facts and tips about keeping awake. One more tip is listening to very romantic songs which keep you excited and save you from from falling asleep.


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