3 Ways to Stay Awake At the Wheel
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. 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 SignsClick 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.
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. MedicineNet.com
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.
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