You’re driving down the road, and your eyelids feel heavy. Fatigue washes over you, and you feel how difficult it is to keep your eyes open and your mind focused as you try not to doze off. You might attempt to push through, but you should reconsider. Driving while drowsy can be extremely dangerous. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that driving while sleep-deprived can be just as dangerous as driving drunk or intoxicated. On top of that, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 697 fatalities as of 2019 from crashes where driving drowsy was the primary culprit. Though sleepy driving doesn’t always lead to death, NHTSA data from 2017 reports that 91,000 crashes that were reported to police involved driving while drowsy. These incidents can be prevented by taking some strategic steps. Here’s how to stay awake while driving and reduce your risk of accidents.
1. Drink some water
Did you know that the body is up to 60% water, and your brain that helps you think and focus is 73% water? It’s true, according to data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). So to help with your alertness levels, it’s time to hydrate! Some research shows that hydrating with water can improve alertness levels.
2. Boost your caffeine intake
If you’re okay handling caffeine, you might consider grabbing some coffee, a Red Bull, tea, or another caffeinated beverage of your choice. In fact, one study showed that one cup of coffee had a positive impact on driving performance while fatigued.
3. Drink peppermint or ginger tea
If you can’t have caffeine for health or personal reasons, consider drinking specific herbal teas like peppermint or ginger tea. The fresh mintiness of peppermint can be invigorating, and the sweet spiciness of ginger can boost alertness.
4. Pull over for a power nap
If you’re driving while tired, you want to figure out how to stay awake when driving. But sometimes, your efforts are futile, and it’s best to give in to a little rest. Consider pulling over in a safe and appropriate place like a rest area (not the shoulder!) for a power nap of 20 minutes. Twenty minutes is a good amount of time for a little energy boost without too much grogginess upon waking.
5. Switch drivers, if possible
If you’re not riding solo and have company in the car with you that is of driving age and can legally drive, see about switching with them for a while. See if they can go from passenger to driver while you go from driver to passenger so you can get a little shut-eye.
6. Make frequent pit stops
When you’re trying to go somewhere, and extremely tired, it can feel counterproductive to take frequent pit stops. But just like taking breaks is good for you throughout the workday, making frequent pit stops is also good for you when you’re drowsy. No need to rush or power through. The RoadTripExpert recommends taking a 15-minute break for every two hours of driving. Get some water and stretch.
7. Put your windows down, turn your music up
Driving, especially on road trips, can be monotonous depending on the road (looking at you Interstate 5 from LA to SF). It can seem like one long stretch with little to no variety, which can add to the fatigue. That’s where you need to figure out how to stay awake on long drives. One way to boost your energy is to engage the senses. Put your windows down and turn your music up. Feeling the fresh air on your face may wake you up and the music can help pump you up.
8. Get your body moving
Driving a lot can also mean staying in the same position for an extended period of time. If you’re tired, make a pit stop to get your body moving. Stretch your arms and legs, roll your neck, do some push-ups, squats, and jumping jacks. In fact, exercise may help boost your body temperature and help wake you up a bit.
9. Snack on whole foods
When you’re sleepy, grabbing that candy bar can seem attractive to get that loaded sugar rush. But you may be better off eating whole foods like vegetables, fruit, and lean protein. Think of apples, bananas, almonds, peanuts, and jerky to help you feel nourished.
10. Improve your posture
If you’re drowsy, you may be slouching and holding onto the steering wheel in a sloppy fashion. If you want to figure out how to stay awake when driving, perk up and sit tall. Improve your posture, so your spine is straight, and keep both hands firmly on the wheel. Better posture can help boost your energy levels, helping you stay alert and awake.
11. Avoid driving during peak drowsy driving hours
According to NHTSA, drowsy driving car crashes happen at two peak times:
- Between midnight and 6am
- In the late afternoon
During these periods, it’s normal to have your energy dip. In the middle of the night, many people are used to sleeping so it can be somewhat unnatural and dangerous to drive during this time. If possible, avoid these timeframes while driving and stick to when your energy is the highest.
12. Be mindful of food, drink, and medication that can make you sleepy
In order to figure out how to stay awake on long drives, it’s crucial to be mindful of the food, drink, and medication you’re consuming before you get behind the wheel. For example, though a big serving of fettuccine alfredo or turkey may sound good, those dishes may make you sleepy.
You also don’t want to consume any alcohol (also, that could lead to a DUI, which is costly and damaging, and potentially life-threatening for you and others). Additionally, if you’re on specific medications such as Xanax that can make you sleepy, you want to avoid that right before hitting the road.
13. Consider chewing gum to combat fatigue
If you’re feeling fatigued, it may seem odd to chew gum. But one study has shown that chewing gum alleviates some fatigue if you’re experiencing sleep deprivation. Additionally, chewing gum can help prevent yawning as well.
The bottom line
If you’re tired behind the wheel, consider these 13 tips on how to stay awake while driving. Drowsy driving can be serious and dangerous for you and others so take precautions to make sure you’re safe.
As part of your car safety plan, make sure you have the right car insurance coverage for your needs. If you’re a low-mileage driver, it might be time to re-think your auto insurance. Using Metromile, you can pay a low base rate and pay for the miles you drive, and nothing more. Get a free quote today.
Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.