Alert Driving & How to Stay Awake While Driving

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Updated: July 17, 2019

Your drivers spend serious time covering long distances on the road, and many may have the habit of pushing on even when they're due a rest stop. Drowsy driving is a major concern, but you can take an active role in helping your drivers improve on-road behavior in terms of driving skill as well as alertness. You should first know why driving makes you drowsy and tired.

Why does driving make you tired?

The expanse of the open road. Mile after mile of nearly identical stretches of highway. The same song on the radio, again. Driving can make you tired for many reasons. Let’s examine a few:

Driving at night

We're often driving to get somewhere before the day begins or after a long day has finished, and these situations we're likely to be more tired and prone to drowsiness. Most people need between 7 and 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night to feel well-rested and function at their fullest. And even if well-rested, natural circadian rhythms can make drivers more likely to feel drowsy in the dark early hours of the morning.1

Long drives across different time zones

Similar to air travel, driving across timezones can be both physically tiring and knock your body clock and circadian rhythms outs of sync. When abruptly changing time zones, it can take time for your body to readjust leaving you feeling sleepy during daylight hours and awake at night.

Driving alone

Driving by yourself doesn't just feel harder, it is harder. There's no one to talk to, share driving duty, and no second set of eyes to tell you when you start to get too close to the vehicle in front or wander from your lane.

Good (or bad) vibrations

A small study from RMIT in Australia2 shows that steady vibrations at low frequencies, like the kind we experience while driving cars and trucks, can lull us into a state of relaxation within 15 minutes of steady driving.
To combat the potential for drowsy driving, here are a few tips to share with your truck drivers to help them stay alert and focused on the road ahead.

Ways to stay awake while driving

1.  Stay hydrated - don’t only drink caffeine

While downing a cup of coffee or an energy drink may help you stay awake while driving for a short distance, over long trips, drinking plenty of water helps keep your body temperature cool and prevent you from feeling sluggish and drowsy. The colder the water, the better!

2.  Pack healthy snacks

Say goodbye to those candy bars, fast food and bags of chips. Instead, reach for protein-packed goodies like almonds, sunflower seeds, and fruit. Or pull over occasionally for a healthy meal that includes complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans or rice.

3.  Chew gum

Various studies have shown that chewing gum can help keep your brain active and your mind awake, although the exact mechanism for this is not clear. A study in 2012 noted that chewing gum heightened subjects’ heart rates and showed noticeable improvements in vigilance.3 Grab the sugarless variety and you can even help prevent cavities. We call that a win-win!

4.  Laugh

Listening to stand-up comedy may help keep your brain focused and eyes on the road. Plus laughing while driving never hurt anyone….just keep your eyes open when you do! Can’t stand stand stand-up comedy? Try an audiobook or a podcast to keep your mind engaged during a long drive.

5.  Smell essential oils

While this may sound out of the ordinary, a quick sniff of an invigorating oil like peppermint, grapefruit or even eucalyptus will help stimulate the brain’s nervous system to keep you alert without the caffeine or sugar rush.

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6.  Turn on that AC

Keeping the cold air flowing in your vehicle can help you from becoming too comfortable and nodding off.

7.  Moisturize those eyes

Staring at the road for long periods of time causes you to forget to blink! Keep eye drops on hand for when your eyes start to feel even the slightest bit dry. If you’re a contact lens wearer, always pack an extra pair in case you need to make a quick change.

8.  Sing!

OK, so you’re not auditioning for American Idol but packing a playlist chock full of songs you know the words to will amp up your concentration and focus on the road trip ahead…arriving to your destination safely. A few of our favorites: “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey; “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen; “Love Shack” by the B-52’s and “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses.

9.  Catch your Zs

One of the most important things that can help you stay alert and awake while driving is to ensure you get enough sleep! Try to clock between the recommended 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.4 This gives your body and mind a chance to repair itself and unwind so you fall into a deep, peaceful sleep. The goal is to start each day with a full tank of energy which helps prevents fatigue and reduce the need for a short nap during the day. If you do start to feel your reaction times dropping, try stopping and take a minute power nap or caffeine nap.

10.  Practice positivity

Studies have shown that people who approach life with a ‘glass half full’ mentality often tire less quickly than those who don’t look on the bright side.5 Pack a book of motivational or inspirational quotes in your glove box and read it when you need a boost. Just make sure the gearshift reads ‘P’ when you do!

When all else fails - pull over!

Forcing yourself into staying awake while you are driving is especially dangerous. Don't put yourself and others at risk. Find a safe place to pull over like a truck stop of rest station and take a nap. Your family and friends will thank you for it!

Sources

1 http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf

2 https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2018/jul/vibrations-cars-drivers-sleepy

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22061430 (2011) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938414002868?via%3Dihub (2012)

4 http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf

5 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12831914_A_Neuropsychological_Theory_of_Positive_Affect_and_Its_Influence_on_Cognition

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