How to Stay Awake While Driving

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6 minutes
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Driving while tired. Most of have done it at some point. It’s difficult to avoid: tiredness usually creeps up on you.

So what to do if you find yourself miles from home and feeling shattered? For most, it’s push on and try to stay awake. You’ve got plans – booking a hotel is a waste of time and money.

But feeling sleepy on a pitch-black motorway is much, much more than a normal, everyday nuisance. It can be fatal – 15 per cent of motorway accidents involve drowsy driving. One particular danger is microsleep, a short uncontrollable period that can last up to 30 seconds. You can fall into it without noticing and even if it’s only for ten seconds, that’s long enough to cause a crash.

First things first. If any of this is happening to you, stop driving as soon as possible:

•  Frequent yawning and rubbing eyes

•  Don’t remember the last few miles

•  Mind wandering, not focused on the road

•  Eyelids feeling heavy, difficulty keeping head upright

•  Drifting over rumble strip into other lanes

•  Tailgating

•  Someone honks at you – your driving could be erratic

Find a safe place to stop for 20 minutes, lock your car and take a quick nap before you drive again. There are some easy fixes to fend off driver fatigue, before you stop and when you head back out on the road.

Three ways to stay awake while driving

  1. Get cold air in the car
    Open windows or turn on the air con for a cold blast to wake you up. If you can, aim the vents away from your eyes to avoid drying them out
  2. Listen to music
    But too many loud or fast tunes will limit your driver awareness, so you won’t hear if the engine’s struggling, or if someone’s about to speed into the back of you
  3. Chew gum
    Scientists say chewing gum helps alleviate tiredness, possibly because it stops you from yawning

And here’s three more things you can do, once you find somewhere to stop:

  1. Have a coffee
    A small dose of caffeine is effective – black coffee or unsweetened tea are best, 30 minutes before driving
  2. Healthy snacks, not heavy meals
    Don’t drive completely full or empty – snack regularly on healthy foods such as bananas, hard-boiled eggs, apples or dark chocolate
  3. Stretch your legs
    Mild exercise can get more oxygen to your brain, while giving your body a break from sitting for hours

However, while these methods can give you a quick boost of energy, it’s only temporary. They shouldn’t be relied on to keep you awake for more than 15 minutes.

The Journal of Sleep Research’s survey of UK drivers studied these quick ways to combat tiredness while driving. They concluded that if you need to do any of these, it’s a sign you should be stopping to rest.

Ultimately, the best course of action is regular naps. The researchers found that 15-minute naps maintain performance over 35 hours with no sleep – if taken every six hours. Naps really can make that much difference. Even shutting your eyes in your seat for four minutes can help. What’s more, they don’t force you to change your plans. All it takes is pulling over into the nearest car park or service station.

But your nap should be no more than 20 minutes – any longer can leave you feeling more tired, as it develops into the full eight-hour sleep your body’s craving.

If you’re planning a long journey, here are six more tips to avoid driving tired:

  • Explore all your travel options
    Look into public transport, including rideshare apps or carpools – especially if you’ve had problems with drowsy driving in the past
  • No option but to drive?
    If you can, schedule your drive to when your body is used to being awake – in the morning, rather than very late at night
  • Get six to nine hours of sleep every night
    Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time, so your body can develop a routine. Don’t be tempted to have an extra-long sleep after staying up the night before – more sleep will disrupt your schedule
  • Make time to relax before sleeping
    Take a bath, have a hot drink, read or listen to quiet music. Avoid electronic devices, since staring at a bright screen can affect your quality of sleep
  • Take a passenger
    They can keep an eye on you, provide conversation to distract you from feeling tired and even grab the wheel in an emergency
  • Consider your diet
    While caffeine can give you a quick jolt of energy, becoming reliant on it means you’ll have to raise your intake every time, as it’ll become less effective. Caffeine addiction can lead to insomnia, higher blood pressure and fatigue

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

And finally, if you’re considering a new car, bear in mind technologies that can make your drive easier – they may be helpful when you’re weary at the wheel.

Land Rover vehicles offer many standard and optional Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, including:

Cruise Control and Speed Limiter, which maintain the vehicle’s current speed without the driver needing to keep their foot on the pedal*

Adaptive Speed Limiter disables the accelerator when the vehicle is speeding, allowing it to coast back down to the speed limit, while the Adaptive Cruise Control keeps your vehicle at a safe distance from the one in front*

Lane Departure Warning senses when the vehicle is unintentionally drifting out of your lane, gives a visual alert and a gentle vibration of the steering wheel*

Driver Condition Monitor detects if you’re starting to feel drowsy and gives you an early warning when you need to take a break*

Blind Spot Monitor alerts you to vehicles in, or quickly approaching, your blind spot*

These are handy features but by no means replacements for full concentration and a healthy lifestyle with regular sleep. They can swiftly alert you to hazards and warn you if your driving is unsafe, but ultimately, can’t prevent an accident if you fall asleep at the wheel.

Find yourself often driving to work tired?

While researchers found that tiredness-related accidents are more common on long motorway journeys, driver fatigue can also affect the daily commute, even if it’s a short distance.

If going to and from work tires you out, don’t just hope you’ll get used to it. Look at alternative routes and other means of transport.

A repetitive commute could potentially make travelling more dangerous. Studies have shown crashes are more likely to happen within five miles of home – if it’s a familiar route the risk of losing concentration is greater.

Why do I get sleepy while driving?

If you suffer from excessive sleepiness, you could have narcolepsy, a long-term condition where the brain can’t regulate its sleeping patterns. In most countries you are legally required to declare this condition to the authorities, and you must not drive until you are free of symptoms.

However, sleepiness at the wheel is much more likely an inevitable consequence of a long journey. It affects all drivers, particularly at night.

We all need to take preventative action, even if we’re in perfect health.

We all know that, as a driver, responding quickly to hazards is vital. That’s not possible if you can barely keep your eyes open.

The best approach is to avoid becoming tired in the first place, according to an OEM study. Methods includes forgoing long night-time drives for other means of travel when you can, keeping a regular sleeping routine and eating nutritious foods. A healthier lifestyle isn’t a quick fix with immediate results, but ultimately, it’ll keep you awake for longer than knocking back an energy drink, blasting out heavy metal and hoping for the best.

*In car features should be used by drivers only when safe to do so. Drivers must ensure they are in full control of the vehicle at all times.

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