Every year, Americans put over 3 trillion miles behind them, enough to drive to Voyager 2 and back almost 300 times. At all hours of the day, short trips and long trips, across town or across the country, drowsy driving is a serious problem. A recent American Automobile Association study calculates nearly 10 percent of car crashes are related to drowsy driving. Considering driving long distances can be mind-bendingly dull, driving while tired can make it difficult to stay awake.
Some of the signs of drowsiness are obvious, such as yawning, frequent blinking, difficulty focusing, or drifting or swaying. Other signs aren’t so obvious because sleep isn’t an on/off switch, but more of a spectrum between fully awake and fully asleep. You might think you’re awake, but if you haven’t had a good night’s rest, part of your brain is likely already asleep! You might jerk awake if you nod off, but many drivers don’t even notice microsleep episodes lasting a few seconds. To keep from nodding off the road, keep in mind these five drowsy driving prevention tips.
1. Rest Well
Be sure to sleep well all of the time, particularly on the days or nights before a long drive. Remember, you never get back the sleep you lose. Getting six to eight hours of sleep is generally suggested and will help you remain attentive during your long drive.
2. Eat Right
Before driving or when on the road, it can be tempting to pick up something quick. Unfortunately, most quick foods are loaded with salt, fat and sugar, which increase drowsiness. Sugar might give you a quick boost, but the crash afterward can be devastating. Instead, choose complex carbs and protein for long-lasting energy.
It might be tempting to reach for coffee or energy drinks, but these are only short-term solutions. Like sugary snacks, caffeine crashes are inevitable. Dehydration is the real problem here, so keep a few bottles of water in your vehicle and sip often. True, this will eventually force you out of your car to stretch your legs, but that’s another good way to stay alert.
Don’t worry so much about getting somewhere by a certain hour, or else you might consider leaving even earlier. If you feel yourself nodding off or even if you don’t, pull over in a safe spot and take a 20-minute cat nap. Any shorter and you won’t get enough rest, but any longer and you might wake in the middle of your sleep cycle, feeling even more tired.
5. Share the Wheel
If possible, share the drive with someone else. Having someone to talk with helps keep you awake and focused. Don’t be offended if your driving buddy says you’re drifting a little too often or noticeably tired. Instead, switch drivers for a couple of hours and take a short nap.
We all want to get where we’re going in one piece, whether it’s for work, going on a road trip, visiting family or on vacation, but drowsy driving is a problem that just can’t be underestimated. Getting a good night’s rest and making sure your car is properly outfitted with the right tools for the long haul is really the only way to stay alert on long drives, but the other tips will certainly help.
Check out all the vision and safety products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on long drives, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.