Staying Awake, Staying Awake: How to Stay Awake While Driving

Sleepy man rubs eyes works at staying awake

Staying awake when night driving can be a nightmare, if you’ll excuse the pun. It’s late, and the whooshing sounds of the other cars on the road are like a kind of white noise that threatens to lull you to sleep. Should you pull over and nap, or drink some coffee and soldier on? Whatever you decide to do, be aware that drowsy driving is every bit as dangerous as driving drunk, and do what you need to stay safe.

Staying awake on its own isn’t enough to forestall the dangers of driving while tired. Fatigue affects judgment which in turn can lead to poor driving decisions. In 2019, for example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 697 fatalities due to sleepy driving. Of course, driving in a state of exhaustion doesn’t always kill, but consider this: in 2017, a total of 91,000 car crashes were reportedly due to driving while tired.

In other words, it’s not enough to battle sleep—the fatigue must also be fought and conquered. The good news is that fighting fatigue and staying awake is not an impossible task. Everyone knows about having a cup of coffee or taking a nap, but there are other ways to stay alert, upright, and awake while driving.

Here are ten tips you can take toward staying awake and attentive at the wheel:

  1. Drink water—Research shows that drinking water can improve concentration and increase your level of alertness. Make sure to have a bottle of water in your car, and stay hydrated to keep you sharp and focused on your driving.
  2. Grab some coffee—Many of us can’t wake up without a cup or two of coffee in the morning. The caffeine in coffee is just as effective for clearing your foggy head when driving tired. One cup of coffee has been shown to have a positive effect on driving performance. But it doesn’t have to be coffee. If you’d rather skip the coffee, drink some cola, tea, or a Red Bull.
  3. Drink ginger or peppermint tea—Not everyone can handle caffeine and some would prefer to avoid putting it into their bodies. A good alternative is an herbal tea with an invigorating scent and flavor, for example ginger or peppermint. Drinking something minty or spicy can help make you more alert.
  4. Pull over and take a nap—It may seem obvious, but if you find you’re tired while driving, sleep is indicated. But you may not be able to pull into a motel and stay the night. A good alternative is to take a 20-minute power nap. Experts say a nap of this length should boost your energy, and you won’t feel groggy when you awaken. Pull over and set your phone alarm to 20 minutes and experience that power nap magic.
  5. Ask a passenger to switch you—If you’ve got someone of driving age along with you for the ride, see if they’d like to switch with you for a bit. While they drive, you can close your eyes and get some much needed rest before you get back behind the wheel.
  6. Take a pit stop when you can—If you aren’t on deadline to arrive at your destination, make frequent rest stops. The experts say it’s a good idea to take a 15-minute-break per every two hours of driving. Find a convenient place to drink some water, stretch, and rest your eyes a bit.
  7. Roll the windows down and turn up the volume—Driving is monotonous; part of the reason it makes us sleepy. A good way to counter the drowsiness is to wake up your senses. Some stimulation in the form of music, or some cool, fresh air on your face from an open window can help make you more aware and awake.
  8. Straighten up—Surprising but true: if you’re slouched over the wheel, you’ll begin to feel drowsy. If you sit up straight and tall, and place both hands firmly on the wheel, you’ll immediately feel energized and alert.
  9. Chewing gum—Believe it or not, at least one study shows that chewing gum can alleviate fatigue. Of course, not everyone likes or is able to chew gum, but if you don’t mind it, give it a try. Whatever works, right?
  10. Don’t drive when your biorhythms are low—According to the NHTSA, crashes due to drowsy driving tend to occur in the late afternoon and between the hours of midnight and 6am. That’s when our natural energy stores tend to flag. Plus, most of us sleep at night. You may feel tired if you drive during the hours you’re normally asleep. If at all possible, pick a different time to drive and stay safe.
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