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How to Stay Awake while Driving

Updated on October 30, 2012

How to Prevent Sleepiness when Driving

One of the most dangerous things that you can do when driving is to continue driving once you've gotten sleepy. You don't even have to fall asleep to cause damage on the road - although that's a major concern - you start risking your safety and the safety of others as soon as you start driving while tired. Your reflexes and reaction times get slower and your attention drifts so you're simply not as prepared at the wheel as when you're wide awake. Unfortunately, there are going to be times when you have to drive for long periods of time and you might get sleepy doing it. As a result, you need to have an arsenal full of tricks up your sleeve that you can rely on to beat the sleepiness and stay alert on the road.

Here are some of the most common ways that people avoid getting sleepy while driving for long stretches of time:

  • Caffeine. Let's face it, there's a reason that gas stations along the highway always have plenty of coffee available for their customers. Many people rely on the caffeine boost from coffee - or the jolt from a soda or an energy drink - to give them the boost they need. If you're someone who feels more awake after drinking caffeine (not everyone does), then this could be a good trick for you. However, remember that the caffeine high is only going to last for a short time. After that, you'll crash and be even more tired than before. Therefore, you should only use this trick if you have a good sense of how long a caffeine rush lasts for you and you'll be able to reach your destination - or at least a good stopping point - within that time frame.
  • Healthy energy boost. Some people prefer avoiding the caffeine rush and going instead for a healthy snack that will boost their energy levels. This has an added benefit as well. When you get tired, your body sometimes mistakes the need for sleep with the need for food. Therefore, you're going to get hungry as you get tired. A healthy snack can take that hunger edge off while waking you up a bit. Foods that are rich in healthy carbs and proteins are the ones that you're going to get the most benefit from in terms of energy.
  • Cold air. Chilly air will help you wake up and stay more alert. Many people roll down the windows of their car in order to get fresh air because natural cold air is going to give you more of a burst than your AC will. However, if you need to use the AC, it can work as well. You might be slightly uncomfortable if you're cold but at least you'll be on your toes.
  • Create discomfort. Chilly air isn't the only thing that can make a car uncomfortable. Change up the way that you're sitting in the seat so that it's not quite as comfy as it usually is. Or focus on a situation in your life that is causing you frustration. If you're uncomfortable, you're not going to be so sleepy. This isn't fun but it can do the trick in a pinch when you're on the road and really need something to help you stay awake.
  • Sing along to loud music. Music on the radio can sometimes make you more sleepy if you don't choose it wisely. Make sure that you have a selection of CDs in your car that are all upbeat and filled with energy. Don't be afraid to turn it up and sing along. If you get yourself amped up like you would at a dance club then you won't feel so sleepy while you drive.
  • Talk radio or audio books. This one isn't right for everyone. Some people hear a book on tape and immediately start to get bored (and sleepy). However, there are some people who can get really engaged in talk radio or books on tape. Those people will benefit from turning their minds on to one of these items while driving. Spoken word poetry or comedy skits work better for others.
  • Pull over and exercise. Exercise will get your blood pumping and wake you up for a little while. When you get out of the car at a gas station or see a rest stop that looks safe, you can take a few moments to get yourself energized through exercise. Don't overdo it; you want to add energy not sap yourself!
  • Buy a gadget that helps. There are several different gadgets on the market that are specifically designed to help sleepy drivers stay awake. For example, there's the Drive Alert Master which will emit a loud beep in your ear every time that it senses your head starting to drift into sleepiness. If you're someone who has a reason to regularly drive while tired and nothing else is working for you then you might want to try some of the gadgets out there that cost a little bit but could work to keep you safe.
  • Ask yourself why you're so tired. There are several different reasons that you might get tired when driving and they can help you determine methods of treating the problem. If you're tired because you haven't slept then you might need to pull over at a rest stop and take a catnap. If you're tired because you're bored from all of the hours on the road, you might benefit from playing a road game with yourself or calling a friend to talk for awhile while driving (hands-free of course. If you're tired because you took medication that may have made you drowsy, you need to pull over and wait for the effects to wear off. Assessing the true cause of what's making you tired goes a long way towards reducing the problem.

Make sure that you try out a bunch of different tricks to see what works for you to prevent sleepiness while you're on the road. If what you're trying isn't working and you're just too tired to keep going, pull off the road and get a motel room. You'd rather be late to wherever you're going than not to get there at all.


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  • profile image

    Happy 5 years ago

    I found a great way, just buy some wasabi flavour peanut, put few in your mouth, close your mouth while eating them, .. try it and I can guarantee you will feel a wake for.. few minutes at least... :P keep eating them throughout the whole night....

  • profile image

    Qwest 6 years ago

    Didn't mention eating. A bag of pretzels works wonders.

  • tlsaecourse profile image

    tlsaecourse 7 years ago from Florida

    Good this is to take nap for a while and then start drivng as Coach Gerry said...........

  • Coach Gerry profile image

    Coach Gerry 9 years ago from Loveland

    The only thing that works for me is to pull over and grab a quick 15 minute nap.

    Works every time for about another 3 hours.

    Good luck--Gerry

  • funride profile image

    Ricardo Nunes 9 years ago from Portugal

    Very good tips. The only accident I had happened because I fell asleep due to several factors: I was very tired, listening to gentle music and had the heat on. After that I never commit those same mistakes again.

  • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

    Zsuzsy Bee 9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

    Thank you Kathryn for the great information.

    regards Zsuzsy