Driving while overly exhausted can be extremely dangerous. It can not only risk your life but the lives of others as well. Some even consider it to be just as (if not more) dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol. Not only will we go over what causes driver fatigue, we will also share with you some of our top tips on how to stay safe. And what to do if you find yourself falling asleep at the wheel.
What Causes Drowsy Driving?
It might be one specific thing. Or it could be several little things. But drowsy driving can be brought on by several factors. See if your reason for falling asleep at the wheel has anything to do with the following.
Lack of Sleep:
Of course the most common cause of drowsy driving is lack of sleep. If your sleep tank is filled up, you’re going to be able to drive for a good long time before you start to get tired. Whether you are starting your drive with little sleep or you are driving for long periods into the night, lack of sleep can be very dangerous. This is the biggest cause for drowsy driving.
Get a good amount of rest before heading out for long drives. Also, take breaks as needed and don’t push yourself too far.
You May Also Like: The Importance of Sleep & Why Do We Sleep?
If you have been driving for extended periods of time, it is important to take breaks. Let’s say you got a full nights rest but you’re going to be driving all day long. You may find that by lunch time or even dinner time you’re exhausted and find yourself drifting off to sleep. Long drives can really take the wind out of your sails.
While it is not physically draining, it can be mentally draining. Having to sit in one place and focus on the road can be exhausting, frustrating, or even simply monotonous and boring. All of which can send you off to dream land if you’re not careful.
Street Sounds = White Noise:
The combination of the sound of tires on the road and a low humming is very similar to white noise. This is very relaxing, in fact white noise machines are used by many to help encourage sleep at night.
If at all possible we suggest cutting through the white noise with music or conversation. The white noise can be hypnotic and lull you right to sleep. Finding ways to distract and stimulate your senses is the best way to avoid this.
Learn more about the effects of White Noise in our post: Pros & Cons of White Noise Machines
Lack of Stimulation:
This is the main reason why white noise puts you to sleep. It drowns out other distracting noises and is not very stimulating. There is not a lot of stimulation to your mind while driving. Especially on long highway drives there can be stretches for hours where everything looks the same and there is nothing but winding roads to follow. This lack of stimulation can really put you in the mood for a nap.
Thankfully in modern cars there are lots of ways that you can safely stimulate your mind without distracting you from the road. We will get into these in a bit more detail later. However music, conversation, audio books, podcasts all of these are great options for stimulating your mind in order to stay awake.
You don’t have to be physically tired to find yourself drifting off while driving. You may have found yourself driving drowsy on the way home from an office job. Physically you have not done much to make yourself tired, but you are mentally drained. Your mind needs sleep just as much as your body does. When you turn off your busy mind and begin to relax on the way home you find yourself nodding off.
Long drives can also leave you feeling mentally exhausted. Just because your body has been sitting still, doesn’t mean that your mind isn’t tired. Driving through traffic, staying on speed, keeping up with directions, watching out for crazy drivers. Driving is a mentally exhausting activity. Be mindful that if your mentally exhausted it is not safe to drive.
How Do I Stop Falling Asleep At The Wheel?
Now that you know that drowsy driving is a problem how do you stop? Below are several helpful tips to ensure that if you are prone to dowsing off that you don’t fall asleep behind the wheel.
Turn Up The Music:
Cut the white noise road sounds and lack of stimulation with some music. Bump up the volume and find a station that you can jam to. We suggest music that you really like to sing to and isn’t too repetitive or monotone. Even some dance music can start to sound the same and blur together.
Instead find some music that keeps you engaged while still being able to focus on the road. You may even find that switching up the stations helps you from tiring of one genre or another. Music is highly stimulating which is why it is so helpful in this situation. However we do suggest avoiding anything overly soothing, because of course this will likely put you right to sleep.
Podcasts & Audiobooks:
Now not all Audiobooks and Podcasts will be helpful in this particular situation. You need to find something that stimulates your mind enough to keep you awake. Typically Podcasts that feature different people conversing with each other tends to be more stimulating than a single even toned voice.
While of course audiobooks can either help keep your eyes open, or having you drooling and fast asleep depending on your general interest in the book as well as the readers enthusiasm in reading the book. Test drive a few and see if it works for you. We also find that variety helps keep you stimulated, so if it works for an hour and then you find yourself loosing interest or drifting off again, then may it is time to switch back to music.
Drive With a Friend:
If you are going on a trip where you can bring along a friend. Say perhaps a drive back home for the weekend from college, or a road trip with friends or family. Then this is highly suggested. You can take turns on who is driving as well as talk and help keep each other awake during the long drive.
Not only will this allow for much needed breaks throughout the drive, you can also entertain each other as well as keep one another in check. If you realize your friend is getting a bit drowsy at the wheel, you can tell them it is time to switch or pull over. Having multiple drivers on an extended car trip is immensely helpful.
Hands Free Calls:
Driving on your own, but still craving conversation? No problem, with hands free common now you can safely have conversations over the phone while driving. Calling someone you can talk to is a great way to stay alert while driving. Having a conversation can keep your mind working and stimulated.
Which in turn helps you from drifting off to sleep. This can also be a good way to check in and gauge how tired you really are.
If you find it difficult to maintain the conversation, or focus on what is being said, then it is a good sign that it is time to stop and rest. This is also a great way to simply pass the time on the road. Catching up with those that you love or haven’t been able to see in a while.
Hydrate & Caffeinate:
Sleep is the best choice when you’re feeling drowsy. It is the only real cure to feeling tired. However, if you’re in a pinch and your drive is not too long, getting some caffeine in your system can help you perk up long enough to finish your drive. It is one of the reasons that must gas stations are stocked to the brim with caffeinated beverages for you to choose from.
Staying hydrated also helps to keep you awake, which is why we suggest keeping a cold bottle of water close buy that you can sip on during your drive as well. The combination will also encourage more frequent bathroom breaks. Which can be beneficial to staying awake, which is what we are getting into more with our next tip.
Take Breaks / Break Up Your Drive:
Breaks may add a bit of time to your drive, but getting up and walking around helps get your blood flowing and keep you awake. This also allows you to check in with yourself, see how tired you are and potentially gauge whether it is time to call it a night and get some sleep. If you are driving with others, these breaks are perfect for switching drivers as well.
If you have an especially long drive ahead of you, be sure you plan your drive in manageable chunks. While many truck drivers can drive for hours and hours on end, they have also had years to practice this lifestyle. If you drive will take several days, be sure to take full breaks for meals. Also don’t plan for all nighters, it simply isn’t safe and is not necessary. Taking the time to get a good nights rest is always time well spent when you are driving long distances.
At the end of the day nothing is going to help you more than getting some sleep. For the average adult it is suggested that you get 7 – 9 hours of sleep every day. If you do not keep a regular schedule, you may want to consider taking naps to supplement your sleep schedule.
If you find yourself drifting off, do the right thing and find a place to safely pull over and rest. This is for your safety as well as the safety of others. Driving while drowsy is oh so dangerous.
Struggling to maintain a healthy sleep schedule? Head over to our post: How To Fix Your Sleep Schedule
Talk To Your Doctor:
If you are getting more than enough sleep, and you still find yourself nodding off every time you get in the car. Then this may be a sign of some bigger problems.
You may be suffering from a sleep disorder like narcolepsy, or have something else going on causing your chronic sleep behaviors. If this sounds like a possibility for you we suggest talking to your doctor or a specialist to find out what could be causing these issues you’re having.
Avoid Drowsy Driving Recap:
Driving while drowsy or drifting off to sleep is incredibly dangerous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approximates tens of thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths caused by driver fatigue every year. Drowsy Driving is a serious issue, remember that it is always worth the extra time for rest. We hope some of our tips help you to get rest, stay awake, and drive safe.