What Not To Do
Many people think that opening the window, cranking loud music, or talking on the phone helps them stay awake and avoid drowsiness. Although they might feel like they “work,” they’re actually pretty dangerous because they distract you from driving, which commands 100 percent your attention. These “tricks” also give you a false sense of security, making you feel like you’re OK to be driving when you should really stop.
Don’t rely on tricks to get you through a road trip. Either share the driving duties with someone else or, if you’re flying solo, pull over and take a quick nap.
What Are Some Causes Of Drowsy Driving
There are some main contributors that cause drowsiness while driving. Long hours, time of day, and sleep-related problems are just a few.
Long Hours on the Road
Many studies have shown that longer drives lead to a decrease in alertness over time. If you are planning a long road trip, be sure to take breaks and switch drivers when possible. While longer drives seem to make drivers the sleepiest, even a shorter drive, between 20 to 25 minutes, can cause significant fatigue in the driver, especially if the environment is monotonous or if it is during a part of the day when they tend to feel sleepier.
Time of Day
Circadian rhythm is our bodys biological clock, which cycles over a 24-hour period. Our body temperature, alertness levels, and energy levels change predictably with the time of day. Even for those who are not sleep-deprived, circadian rhythm can cause sleepiness in the afternoon. Research has found that most sleep-related motor vehicle crashes occurred during the hours of midnight to 7 a.m. and afternoons between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. It is best to avoid driving during these hours, when possible. Even short drives can be affected by circadian-rhythm-related drowsiness.
Irregular Working Hours
Alcohol and Medication
Age and Sex
What Are Signs That You Should Stop Driving To Rest
If you notice any of the following signs of drowsy driving, you should look for the next available opportunity to stop and rest:
- Frequent yawning
- Tired eyes, droopy eyes, or an increase in blinking
- Drifting into other lanes or hitting rumble strips on the road
- Inability to remember the last few miles
- Missing a road sign or exit
- Following other cars too closely
- Difficulty maintaining proper speed
Take these signs seriously; they are a warning that you are drowsy and at risk if you continue driving. Exit or pull off the road and rest until you are not feeling sleepy.
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Why Do I Get Sleepy While Driving
There are many factors that may lead to sleepiness while driving. One theory is referred to as highway hypnosis, or a state in which your attention slips while driving for a long period of time in a predictable environment, such as a long stretch of highway or a road that is very familiar to you. As your attention starts to slip, the chances of falling asleep and running off the road are higher. Research suggests that after a long drive, drowsiness is higher and alertness is lower when on highways versus side roads. The monotony and predictability of a highway leads to drowsiness and boredom while behind the wheel, especially after a long drive.
Car Rides Maintain A Consistent Level Of White Noise
A big reason why cars can create a great place for people to sleep is the presence of white noise. ;Colin Lecher, of Popular Science, defines white noise as a consistent noise that comes out evenly across all hearable frequencies. White noise is also used as a common solution to help people who suffer from sleeping problems.
For people who suffer sleeping disorders, white noise can covers all distracting sounds that might wake up light sleepers. According to Lecher, when a noise wakes you up in the night, its not the noise itself that wakes you up, but the sudden change or inconsistencies in noise that jar you.
Long periods of driving constantly emits white noise. From the engine, to the sound of driving along the open road cars create their own world full of white noise, that is the ultimate lullaby for every passenger.
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Infrequently Asked Questions: Why Do We Fall Asleep So Easily During Car Rides
The world is full of questions we all want answers to but are either too embarrassed, time-crunched or intimidated to actually ask. In the spirit of that shared experience, we’ve embarked on a journey to answer all of the questions that burn in the minds of Philadelphians everything from universal curiosities to Philly-specific musings .;
Car rides are a reliable trick for getting fussy kids to fall asleep, but it seems to work pretty well on adults, too, Why is that? Is it the movement, the noise, the close quarters?
Curious, we reached out to Drexel University Sleep Center Director Joanne Getsy for an answer.
Lets say were riding in a car as a kid or an adult. Why is it that its usually a little easier to get to sleep?
I think there are several reasons. It depends on whether were talking about adults or children, but lets talk about it as a general thing. Its probably because we are sedentary. So, it may or may not be the movement, but certainly just being sedentary and not having all those other things to busy our minds. Once youre in the car you’re strapped in, not running around and, if youre tired, no matter how much sleep you got the night before … when you run around all day, you really cant fall asleep because youre on your feet. But when youre sedentary, suddenly you’re strapped in a car, you cant go anywhere, you might be looking at pretty things around you and you dont think about all the;stresses;at work or home and all that.;
What Causes Excessive Sleepiness
The most common cause of sleepiness is sleep deprivation. If you don’t get sufficient hours of sleep to feel rested and;clear away the adenosine that has accumulated, you will fall asleep faster.
The average person needs just over eight hours of sleep, but there are some people whose sleep needs are more or even less. If you fall asleep quickly, take naps, doze unintentionally, or sleep in on the weekends, these could be indications that you are sleep deprived. Extending your time in bed may be all it takes to ease your sleep debt and allow you to fall asleep a little more slowly.
If sleep is of poor quality and you awaken repetitively throughout the night, this can also contribute to falling asleep too quickly. Referred to as sleep fragmentation, the most common cause is the disorder known as sleep apnea.
In people with sleep apnea, breathing becomes disturbed and leads to frequent arousals during the night. Sleep apnea is associated with other symptoms, including teeth grinding, snoring, and frequent trips to the bathroom at night. Fortunately, effective treatments exist to restore sleep quality.
There are other disorders that can fragment sleep as well. One possibility is restless legs syndrome characterized by periodic;movements of the legs at night. Narcolepsy is another in which abrupt transitions of consciousness and unconsciousness occur. When testing does not reveal the cause of excessive sleepiness, it may be diagnosed as idiopathic hypersomnia.
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How To Avoid Feeling Sleepy While Driving
According to 2018 research carried out by the AA, 1 in 5 accidents on major roads are caused by tiredness. They also found that 1 in 8 of UK drivers admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel.
Why does driving make me sleepy?
There are a number of reasons; for example: car vibrations, monotonous roads, or dehydration. Feeling sleepy while driving is very dangerous, but can also be hard to avoid, especially during long-haul trips.
Here are some tips to help prevent you nodding off while on the roads.
Talk With Your Doctor Make Some Lifestyle Changes
Of course, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and eating healthy on a regular basis is always the best way to increase your energy level overall and prevent grogginess, dependency on caffeine,;or;carb and sugar cravings in the first place, she says. Especially when youre;driving.
According to Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer;if you regularly have trouble nodding off on the road you should see a sleep specialist to make sure its not a form of a more serious medical condition.;
You should also consider making lifestyle choices if youre able to, she says. Riding a bike, taking public or rideshare transportation, or investing in a car that has visual, audio or vibrating alerts if your car begins to drift off are all great ways to keep yourself safer on the road.
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How To Prevent Drowsy Driving
There are four things you should do before taking the wheel to prevent driving while drowsy.
For healthy sleep tips and more information about sleep disorders visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicines sleep education site:
How Common Is Falling Asleep At The Wheel
Driver fatigue can cause someone to fall asleep at the wheel. You do not need to miss much sleep to increase your risk of falling asleep while driving. According to the CDC, people who slept less than six hours a night were more likely to report falling asleep at the wheel than those who slept more than six hours.
Drowsy driving and falling asleep at the wheel is a common occurrence. However, sources vary on how common the problem is among American drivers.;
The NHTSA estimates that 91,000 crashes involved drowsy drivers in 2017, resulting in nearly 800 traffic fatalities and about 50,000 injuries.;
However, the National Sleep Foundation estimates drowsy driving causes more than 6,400 fatalities each year in the United States. The NSF states that fall-asleep crashes are often the result of voluntarily not getting enough sleep. It is estimated that about 35 percent of drivers do not get the recommended amount of sleep per night .
The CDC also reports that about 1 in 25 adult drivers report falling asleep while driving in the past 30 days. One survey of 150,000 adults found that four percent of respondents stated they had fallen asleep at least once in the past month.;
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Get A Nap In Beforehand
Nothing can substitute for a good rest even if its just for a few hours .
First and foremost, try to get a healthy amount of sleep so that youre well rested for your drive and throughout the whole day.
But if thats not possible, take a nap for at least 15 to 30 minutes before you have to drive. According to a 2012 study , even a short nap can get you the slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep you need to feel refreshed and alert.
The National Sleep Association suggests a pre-drive nap can do a lot of good for your mental state during a drive.
How Common Is Drowsy Driving
While there is no exact measure of drowsy driving, research indicates that it is disturbingly common. The National Sleep Foundations 2005 Sleep in America Poll found that 60% of adult drivers reported driving while drowsy in the past year. Survey data from the CDC indicated that one in every 25 adults had fallen asleep behind the wheel in the past month.
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Causes Of Tired Driving
Aside from the obvious cause of a general lack of sleep, drowsy driving can be caused by:
- Sleep disorders
- Consistent drug or alcohol use, including over the counter or prescription medications
- Driving on rural roads for extended periods or driving unlit rural roads at night
- Driving for too long without taking breaks
- Taking on sole driving responsibilities while on a road trip or long drive
Fatigue is, unfortunately, ingrained in our daily lives, but some people may be more at risk of falling asleep while driving.
Truck drivers are at an increased risk of falling asleep at the wheel, and their accidents have some of the most severe consequences. Other commercial drivers, late-night shift workers, and people with sleep disorders should also be mindful of their wakefulness before operating a vehicle.
Car Rides Are ‘kind Of’ Comfortable
A lot of what makes sleep possible has to deal with comfort.
Naturally, if youâre in the passenger or backseat of a car, you might not be super comfortable in a physical sense, but, given the fact that youâre not the one driving the car, there is a sense of comfort in knowing youâre not the one responsible for watching the road.
Some people, however, tend to get anxious when somebody else is holding the wheel.
Certain people feel obligated to stay awake and alert throughout entire trips because the feeling that theyâre not fully in control can beÂ;unsettling.
Clearly, if somebody has the habit of âbackseat driving,â that type of anxiety will prevent one from catching some Zs.
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Long Periods Of Inactivity
On buses and trains, you dont move around very much. You just sit down and enjoy the scenery as the vehicle moves along the road. Basically, youre away from the things that keep your mind and your physical body busy. Of course, you can feel sleepy when working or doing errands, but the effect is not the same when youre not moving. With that in mind, staying relatively motionless during a ride makes it easier to fall asleep. This inactivity also slows your brain activity down because theres no stimulus to keep it awake.
What Should I Do If I Start To Feel Sleepy While Driving
Sleep-related motor vehicle accidents may be common, but they are preventable. Getting quality sleep on a regular basis is essential for many reasons. Experts recommend that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep every night, and this is the best way to avoid drowsy driving. If you feel yourself starting to nod off or fall into a microsleep, it is important to act fast to remedy the situation. Simply rolling down the windows and turning up the music is not enough. Below are steps you can take to stay safe:
- Pull Over: Find a safe place to pull off the road.
- Change Drivers: If possible, switch to a different, well-rested driver and give yourself some time to rest as a passenger.
- Take a Nap: If you must continue driving, take at least 20 minutes to nap in a safe place. A nap has been shown to increase alertness, but only for short periods of time. Do not rely on napping alone for a long drive.
- Drink Caffeine: Drinking coffee or a caffeinated drink alone is not enough to keep you safe and alert while driving. Try taking a nap first, then go for a cup or two of coffee.
- : When in doubt, call a friend or a cab to pick you up. It is not worth risking your safety or the safety of others.
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Curious Kids: Why Children Always Fall Asleep In Cars
This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions theyd like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome serious, weird or wacky!
Why do we always fall asleep when were in cars or moving vehicles? Christian, age 7, Brisbane.
Thats a great question, Christian. There are a few possible reasons. One is that we might be trying to catch up on the sleep that we didnt get the night before, which is called our sleep debt.
Our bodies know when we are tired and so they will find times and places to sleep whenever they can.
But then why doesnt everyone fall asleep in a moving car?
Thats partly because not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. Sleep scientists say that some children in your age group need only nine hours of sleep at night, while others need as much as 11 hours. It depends on the person.
And not everyone gets the sleep they need. If you have slept as much as you needed to the night before, you will probably not fall asleep in the car.
Also, some people can handle being tired and can make themselves stay up much more easily than other people, just because they are born that way.
We may also fall asleep in a moving car because it is very similar to our beds. Its warm and comfortable and we are usually feeling safe and relaxed. So if you are sleepy, comfortable and feeling safe, you will likely fall asleep in the moving car.
How Does Sleepiness Occur
First, it’s important to understand how we become sleepy. The feeling of sleepiness is due to the accumulation of a chemical within the brain called adenosine.;Through the process of energy use and metabolism that occurs with wakefulness, adenosine levels gradually increase.;Therefore, sleepiness increases the longer we stay awake.
The process of sleep clears this chemical from our brain through the lymphatic system. As a result, when we wake up in the morning, the levels of adenosineand sleepinessare at their lowest and we feel refreshed.;
During the hours you are awake, adenosine levels continue to rise, creating a phenomenon called homeostatic sleep drive. This is sometimes referred to as sleep load or sleep debt.
For example, if you are;awake for 30 straight hours, at the end of that time you will be extremely sleepy, fall asleep easily, sleep deeply, and may even sleep longer than you normally would. Here, the levels of adenosine get quite high and compel;you towards sleep.
Similarly, if you stay up late at night, past your normal bedtime, you will fall asleep faster because the adenosine levels have increased. But, what happens when these levels are consistentlyand sometimes inexplicablytoo high?
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