Staying Awake at the Wheel

By: James M. DuBach

A nap can be pleasant and relaxing – unless you’re at the wheel of a car when it happens. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that sleep related driving accidents cause 40,000 injuries and 150 deaths every year. Don’t be one of them.

Follow these tips for staying awake and alert on the road:

  • Get enough sleep. If you know you’ll be driving a long distance, plan to get the sleep you need ahead of time. Take a nap before you leave if you’ll be driving late – but avoid driving late at night if at all possible, as you’ll be naturally sleepy anyway no matter how rested you feel.
  • Take breaks. Don’t try to drive for hours at a time. Stop about every two hours for 10-15 minutes of rest, brisk exercise, and stretching.
  • Get proper nutrition. Stay hydrated – drink lots of water. Coffee, tea and energy drinks may provide a temporary boost, but remember that they can wear off quickly and leave you with less energy than before. The same goes for candy. Eat fruit, sunflower seeds, or high-carb granola bars, and don’t gobble them down in a few bites. Eating slowly forces you to keep your attention level up.
  • Don’t get too comfortable. Open the window to keep cold air blowing on your face, or adjust your seat just enough to be noticeable as you drive (but not enough to distract you). Listen to loud music – maybe music you don’t like – or talk radio, as long as it doesn’t get you too upset.
  • Pull over. If all else fails, find a safe spot to pull over and take a nap. Fifteen or 20 minutes may be enough to get you through the rest of your trip.