How to Make Sure You Don’t Fall Asleep at the Wheel

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We’ve all been there: it’s been a long day on the road, and all you want to do is get to your destination. Or you’re short on sleep, but you need to drive home from work. But you’re tired, and you’re not feeling particularly alert. This feeling is drowsy driving, and it’s dangerous.

Although drowsy driving may seem like an innocent mistake, you should take it as seriously as drunk driving. Driving when you’re too sleepy to do so can be as dangerous as drunk driving.

The best way to prevent drowsy driving is to stop it before it starts with proper planning and a good night’s sleep. Make sure your bedroom is a refuge for rest. Buying a new mattress for comfort may help. Despite a comfortable bedroom, the reality is that drivers may still end up in a situation where they are too sleepy to drive safely.

Drowsy driving can be dangerous, but getting home safely when you’re sleepy is not an impossible situation. Follow these tips to use the most effective methods for staying awake and alert behind the wheel.

  • Switch drivers. If you have a spare driver, who is better rested and alert than you are, switching drivers is the obvious solution. Pull over and let them take the wheel safely while you rest.

  • Drink coffee. Caffeine can be an especially effective resource for alertness on the road. In a recent study, sleepy drivers performed better after drinking coffee. In fact, coffee drinkers did better than people who napped to relieve tiredness behind the wheel, and both groups did better than those who drank decaf. Caffeinated coffee is especially useful for drivers ages 40 to 50, lowering their risk by 89 percent.

  • Take a nap. As refreshing as drinking coffee to some, a nap is also a good idea to get revived. Consider pulling over to take a 20-minute nap that can restore your energy and alertness. A particularly powerful combination is a coffee nap. With a coffee nap, you’ll drink a cup of coffee quickly, then go down for a short 20-minute nap. The caffeine will kick in while you’re sleeping, so when you wake up, you’ll benefit from the alertness offered by both the rest and caffeine.

  • Get out and stretch your legs. Sometimes, long and dark roads can have a hypnotic effect when you’re feeling tired. You may doze off simply because the landscape is dreary and the road seems never-ending. If you stop and get out, you can break the pattern and increase circulation, which can be stimulating. Head into a brightly lit store, and you can benefit from the alertness that light exposure offers.

  • Don’t rely on loud music or opening a window. If you’re pushing to get to your destination, you may feel tempted to keep going instead of stopping to get coffee, take a nap, or stretch your legs. You can turn up the music or open a window, but these are not effective and may be especially dangerous because you feel like you’re doing something to help yourself stay awake — but you’re really not.

  • Pull over for the night. If all other methods fail and you’re feeling too sleepy to drive with the alertness you need to stay safe, just let it go and pull over for the night. Find a hotel where you can get a good night of sleep and start fresh in the morning. Even if you’re delayed, stopping is the best choice rather than continuing to drive unsafely, as the consequences of drowsy driving can be deadly.

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