Whether you’re working long hours, changing shifts, or just trying to get to a vacation destination, drowsy driving can pose a serious threat to your health. Similar to the effects of alcohol, sleepiness increases reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment. This overlooked aspect of driving safety is a factor in 1 out of 8 fatal crashes: that’s one incident for every two involving a drunk driver. These tips will help you stay alert so you can arrive at your destination safely.
Listening to loud music, getting cold air from an open window, slapping your face or getting out for a quick stretch can help you stay awake, but they don’t do anything to increase alertness. Your reaction times and judgment will still be poor, which means your driving will still be just as dangerous.
So, what can you do?
1. Get Some Sleep
How important is a good night’s sleep? According to a study conducted by AAA, drivers are twice as likely to be involved in a drowsy driving accident if they sleep 6-7 hours compared to those who slept at least 8 hours. Drivers who had less than 5 hours of sleep were 4 to 5 times as likely to be involved in an accident.
2. A Poor Sleep Schedule can Significantly Reduce Alertness
Sometimes, that 8 hours of rest beforehand may not be enough. If you have a high sleep debt, the result of going without a full night’s sleep for several days, you may need more rest beforehand to prevent drowsiness. A study published in “Science Translational Medicine” found that people who slept 5 ½ hours per week for three weeks can feel fully rested after 10 hours of sleep, but their alertness dropped off after just 6 hours of being awake.
If you’ve had trouble with drowsiness throughout the day despite getting plenty of sleep, you may have an undiagnosed sleeping disorder. Getting treatment won’t just help you live a better life, it could save you from a costly error behind the wheel.
3. Take Frequent Breaks
Between the noise, vibration and constant mental activity, driving is taxing on your body. Stopping every two hours or 100 miles throughout the journey can reduce fatigue and help you avoid drowsiness longer.
4. Travel With a Passenger
Having a passenger with you doesn’t just give you someone to talk to, it provides you with someone to keep an eye on your driving and warn you when you start getting sloppy. If you start to feel sleepy, switch driving duties with your travel mate and get some rest.
5. Avoid Alcohol and Sedatives
Drinking even a small amount of alcohol can lead to drowsiness, even well after you’ve sobered up. When you stop for meals during your drive, skip the beer and margaritas.
Also, talk to your doctor about any medication that may make you sleepy and how it could affect your driving ability. You might be able to schedule your doses to work around your driving time.
6. Avoid Driving Between 12 am. and 6 am.
What’s so special about this time? Most people are used to being asleep at these hours, so if they’re driving, they’re probably drowsy. As a result, the majority of drowsy driving accidents occur during this time, peaking between 4 and 6 am. Even if you’re normally awake at these hours, driving at the early hour of the day increases your chances of encountering someone who isn’t.
7. Use Caffeine and Rest for Temporary Relief
To date, this is the only method proven to restore alertness aside from getting several hours of sleep. For people who don’t normally consume caffeinated beverages, 200 mg of caffeine, the equivalent of two cups of coffee, paired with a short nap, can improve short-term alertness. It takes about 30 minutes for the caffeine to take effect, and people who consume caffeinated beverages regularly may need more of the drug to have an effect.
Keep in mind this is a stop-gap solution if you need to drive just a little further to get to a place where you can sleep; the effect of caffeine wears off quickly, and repeated doses can’t keep you alert enough to continue driving when you’re already tired.
Tired driving is dangerous driving. Try not to drive at all when you’re sleepy. But if you must, follow these tips to greatly decrease the likelihood of falling asleep at the wheel. Stay safe!