How to Keep from Falling Asleep at the Wheel
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How to Keep from Falling Asleep at the Wheel

While most drivers would never dream of driving drunk, over half of us have driven drowsy in the past year. The NHTSA estimates at least 100,000 single crashes per year are caused by drowsy driving. Worse still, a sleeping driver isn’t going to brake or steer away from an obstacle, increasing the impact and danger of the crash. As a result, these crashes result in the injury of 40,000 people and the deaths of 1,500 people each year, far higher than the average fatality rate for car crashes. The number of total accidents is likely much higher, but it’s difficult to compile data. After an accident or driving error, the driver gets a rush of adrenaline, making them alert, so it’s hard to know when sleep was the culprit. By working with your body before and during your drive, you can reduce the chance of dozing off behind the wheel.

Know When to Stop Driving

If you experience any of the following, you need to think about getting off the road and getting some sleep:

– Restlessness and irritability
– Yawning
– Frequent blinking and needing to rub your eyes
– Having heavy eyelids or difficulty keeping your head raised
– Frequent daydreaming, difficulty with focusing or difficulty remembering the past few minutes
– Missing traffic signs
– Having difficulties staying in the lane


To be alert throughout the day, you need a good night’s sleep. Avoid consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before you go to bed. If you get drowsy after dinner, do a minor physical activity so you’ll be tired enough to fall asleep once you’re ready for bed.

Cumulative partial sleep deprivation or “sleep debt” can keep the driver from being fully rested and alert, even after a full 8 hours of sleep. If you’re planning a road trip and you have the time, give yourself a day to sleep in beforehand or start your trip with a short day and get some extra rest at the hotel before piling on the miles.

Circadian Rhythm

Most sleep-related accidents occur between midnight and 8 am and 1-3 pm because your body’s circadian rhythms will make you the most tired during these hours. Waking up at your normal time instead of getting up early to pile on the miles will help you stay awake in the morning while eating a light lunch will reduce the dip in afternoon alertness. If you need to drive after flying into a different time zone, try to adjust your sleep schedule to gradually line up with the place you’ll be visiting.

Driving Alone

83% of sleep-related accidents occurred when drivers were alone in the vehicle. Having a passenger to talk to can help keep you alert, and they may notice when you’re getting sleepy before you do.


Prescription sleeping pills, painkillers, muscle relaxants and blood pressure medicines can make you feel sleepy, as can over-the-counter drugs, including cold and allergy medicines. Give yourself time to know how these substances affect you and give your body time to adjust to them before heading out on a long drive.


Even if you’re sober by the time you’re behind the wheel, alcohol consumption will increase feelings of fatigue and sleepiness over several hours. Lack of sleep also multiplies sleepiness and slowed reaction times caused by alcohol: having one beer after four hours of sleep has the same effect as 6 beers after 8 hours of sleep.


Caffeine works by blocking receptors that control signals telling your body to sleep. This only extends your alertness by about a half hour even if it will keep you awake longer. This makes it useful if you need to stay awake just a little longer to make it home, but it shouldn’t be relied on.

Taking Breaks

Stop every one or two hours to get out of the car and move around to keep your body active and your mind alert. If you’re getting sleepy but have to press on, take a 15-20 minute nap. This is enough time to increase your alertness while avoiding post-sleep grogginess.

Trust the Professionals in the Event of an Accident

We can’t help you if you’re injured in an accident, but we can help you get your car back on the road. Merton Auto Body has an on-staff appraiser handles the paperwork to get estimates and adjustments approved, and we’re a preferred body shop for insurance companies. We’re an I-CAR Gold Class certified shop, and our technicians are ASE certified, so you can be assured that you’ll always get a quality repair. Visit our website for a free online estimate or stop by our Sussex, WI location. We proudly service the Waukesha County and Lake Country areas including Oconomowoc, Hartland, Delafield, and Pewaukee.



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