Stay Safe out there!
Many people have felt that scary feeling of drifting off slightly to sleep while driving, only to perk up with a start. Or that scary feeling of hearing rumbling strips under your tires after you accidentally swerved off the road. Especially for shift workers, sleeping at the wheel is one of the main causes of death.
If you drive often, work as a commercial truck driver, or have a longer commute, these tips and tricks could be highly useful for you
Nothing wakes up quite like fresh, cold, clean air read on your face while feeling sleepy. You could either turn on the AC to cool off the internal temperature, or open the windows up and let the wind blow in!
Cold air on the skin stimulates sympathetic nervous system arousal, which increases cortisol levels and serves to wake you up. Sympathetic nervous system is your “fight or flight” system, which is partially responsible for regulating energy levels and wakefulness.
Even just a minute or 2 of cold air on the skin can have a very enlightening effect. Give it a shot!
Whether it is some popcorn, beef jerky, or even just chewing a piece of gum, having something to chew on can be a nice way to mildly stimulate yourself and increase alertness. Spicy or salty snacks can be nice, with the strong flavor adding to the stimulation.
Cinnamon or spearmint gum are nice choices, because the strong flavors can serve to wake you up on their own as well.
The tried and true. Coffee. Soda. Energy drinks. Tea.
Regardless of the method, caffeine is well known and well imbibed for a reason. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal system, and increases cortisol in the body. Cortisol energizes the body, which is felt as feeling that caffeine “buzz”.
Phone a friend
This option is helpful for those who have tried some of the other strategies without positive effect on alertness. “Hey, I am driving and I am feeling a little tired. Could I speak to you for a few to perk up?” is an easy way to increase your alertness. You could even call someone who you haven’t spoken to for a while, just to catch up, which could be practical in more ways than one.
Comedy or Audiobooks
Sometimes music or road noise can act as a sound machine, and lull you into a sleepy mode. One way to change this is to put on something to listen to that is mentally stimulating.
Comedy routines or books are very enjoyable, and can increase your overall wakefulness. A good laugh can increase your sympathetic nervous system arousal, which can in-turn help you shake off the sleepiness.
Another option is a mentally stimulating book. Novels are a good option, especially novels intended for middle school or high school aged individuals. These books typically have fast moving plots, and interesting plot developments.
Many audiobooks are narrated with sound effects as well, dramatizing the heroic deeds or providing music to support the storyline. A great starter is the Harry Potter audiobook series.
Stretch, Snooze, or Walk Break
If you are really feeling like it is not safe to be driving, it may be time to pull over and change your physiology.
You could lean your seat back and take a 15 minute nap, or just shut your eyes for a few minutes if time doesn’t permit a full nap. One option that combines two strategies, is to drink some caffeine prior to taking a short nap. When you wake up, you can feel the caffeine, and it may be just what you need to kick that sleepiness out.
Even a short walk can serve to get the blood pumping and energize your drive. Some Rest Areas or truck stops have short paths for walking, which is a nice break in what might otherwise be a long drive.
Nicotine Patches or Gum
For some, this may not be an appealing option, but nicotine patches or gum can be a powerful way to improve alertness and focus when feeling sleepy. It’s important to remember that nicotine is addictive, so use with caution. This strategy hits two tricks in one: chewing gum and adding a mild stimulant to increase alertness while driving.
Hopefully one of these ideas resonated with you, and hopefully you will feel a bit more prepared in case you become sleepy while driving. Good luck, and safe driving!