We’ve all done it before. You’re on a road trip or coming home from a party, tired but determined to keep going. You blink… and then realize that you don’t remember what happened for the last five minutes.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that 60 percent of adults in America admit to having driven while drowsy. And 37 percent say they’ve fallen asleep at the wheel at least once.
Driving drowsy is a serious threat to your safety–and that of everyone else on the road.
Signs That You’re Too Tired to Drive
Many of us go on auto-pilot while driving, especially at night or for long distances. Driving feels like second nature when you’ve been doing it for years, but it’s actually a sophisticated collection of tasks that requires concentration.
Even a momentary lapse–such as checking a notification on your phone–can result in a crash. Nodding off at the wheel is dangerous and yet surprisingly common. Here are some signs that you’re about to fall asleep:
- Frequent yawning
- Trouble keeping your eyes open or repeatedly rubbing your eyes
- Accidentally drifting into the middle of the road or onto the shoulder
- Cranking the music ever louder to stay awake
- Unfocused thoughts
- Blurry vision
- “Blanking out” on stretches of road
- Missing your exit or an important traffic sign
How to Prevent Driving Drowsy
One of the best ways to prevent drowsy driving is to plan ahead. If you know that you’re going to have a long drive or a late night, get extra sleep before you leave. Being well-rested from a solid 8 hours of sleep–plus a nap, if you need to drive at night–is key to maintaining your focus.
Driving with a buddy is also a smart move if you’ll be going on a long trip. Ideally, no one should drive more than 2-3 hours without a break. Trading off drivers makes a big difference.
Try to avoid overnight drives if possible. Driving at night puts you at odds with your body’s circadian rhythm, the natural biological process that tells you to sleep when its dark.
What if You Start to Fall Asleep Anyway?
If you start experiencing the signs of drowsy driving above, you should pull off the road. At that point, no amount of caffeine or loud music can make up for your body’s need to sleep.
Pull over at a rest stop or a truck stop and set an alarm for twenty minutes. One trick is to drink a beverage with caffeine before your nap so that it has time to work on your system before you wake up.