Hitting the open road. Exploring little known destinations. Days of driving endless roads. My eyelids droop at the thought of having to stay awake driving.
I can sleep anywhere. On long haul flights I am the annoying passenger that snoozes happily through babies screaming, food carts banging into my elbow and snoring seat mates.
As I perkily bounce off the plane on the other side of the world, fellow sleepless passengers, who look as though they may have traveled to Mars, send exhausted glares my way.
However the tables turn on me mercilessly during a road trip. To stay awake driving is a personal marathon event. Ten minutes in a moving vehicle and my eyelids feel as though elephants are delicately perching on them.
By one hour behind the wheel, clothes-pinning my droopy eye flappers to my eyebrows seems the best way to avoid sleeping while driving.
So how does one stay awake while driving? We reached out to readers, road trippers and long haul truckers for their best tips on staying awake driving on a road trip.
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20 Ways to Stay Awake Driving- Tried and Tested Tips From Drivers
Please note that driving requires concentration. All tips for staying awake while driving should not take away from focusing on the road. Studies show that drowsiness substantially decreases reaction time, judgement skills and increases risk taking. Always pull over in a safe location if you are feeling drowsy.
Change the station
The radio can be your best friend on a road trip. Having a satellite radio has kept my eyes open for hours on end while behind the wheel. Everything from politics to comedy (not so different some days), old time radio shows to news.
Suspense to keep the blood flowing or comedy to have you laughing down the road. Whatever engages you in a story let a storyteller keep your attention. I love Bill Bryson’s hilarious travel stories. His Australian tale, In A Sunburned Country, almost required me to pull over I laughed so hard.
Drive in the morning
If at all possible drive after a good night’s sleep. Come mid afternoon my nap mode is in full gear. By sunset internal clocks are signaling the brain to sleep. Early day starts help prevent driving while sleepy.
Nothing like some jaw smacking, bubble blowing to keep your eyeballs at attention. Try various brands and flavors for variety to keep your taste buds guessing.
If you are driving and are feeling sleepy pull over and have a 15 minute power nap. According to Sleep Advisor a power nap is the most effective way to refresh your brain and make you feel more alert. I will admit on a solo road trip letting myself get to the point where an irrational voice in my head suggested I just close my heavy eyes for one second. Tell that voice to shut up and pull over.
Download the music from your youth
Over and over we heard from drivers that tunes from their youth kept them most wakeful. Upbeat, bouncy and turn up the volume as needed.
Sing like you mean it
The car may be one of the only safe locations for me to burst into song. The windshield cracks only slightly as I belt out ABBA’s greatest hits. Oh Mama Mia what a noise. Who could possibly sleep?
Hour after hour in the same position the body enters a zombie like state similar to sleep. While in the car try shoulder rolls and neck stretches every 10-15 minutes.
If on a pleasure road trip seek out points of interest and view points. Some of our most amazing finds while traveling have been at unplanned stops. Watch for cool little towns to explore.
Eat a healthy meal before starting out
What no junk food? Make healthy choices that include protein and complex carbohydrates. Sugar, fat and salt may taste good at the time but won’t provide the long lasting stamina you need to stay awake while driving long distances.
Preferably not in the vehicle. Stopped at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere? Get the blood flowing and warm up your pitching arm while tossing pebbles.
Eat your veggies
Pack a large bag of fresh vegetables to snack on. Carrots, celery, snap peas, radishes, cherry tomatoes are choices that won’t get mushy in the mix. Crunch your healthy way down the highway.
Water that is. Dehydration can cause fatigue. Bring an easy access bottle. Buy a sport bottle that can be squeezed without removing lids or caps.
Get some fresh air
Open the windows and breathe deeply. Hopefully your driving is in a pollution free area. Cold air works well to pop the droopy eyeballs open and help to stay awake driving. If you detest the noise of open windows turn down the temperature in your vehicle.
Coffee or Tea
A jolt of caffeine may be the most popular method of how to stay awake driving. The effect will not last the day and be careful not to overdo it. Coffee can act as a diuretic leaving you dehydrated. Too much caffeine and a vibrating, heart palpating driver is at the wheel.
Look for the perfect photo
No matter how boring a landscape may appear at first glance, a pretty picture is waiting to be discovered. Watch for a splash of color, a pond of water in the sunlight, clouds at sunrise or sunset or a once in a lifetime scene if you are really fortunate.
Seeds and nuts
Eaten one at a time, these healthy nibbles can occupy a great deal of time. Sunflower seeds have been a staple on our road trips for decades. Be warned the car may look like a squirrel has broken into your vehicle accompanied by the extended family from a nearby forest.
Do some laps
Pull over in a safe location and walk around your vehicle. Breathe in the fresh air. Get the blood flowing to your legs.
Take a pal on your road trip
A buddy to talk to and sing with (here’s hoping your friends are not tone deaf like myself), will make the hours pass far easier.
The last resort
Chocolate, jelly beans, candies, licorice… you get the high sugar picture. Save it for desperate situations. Too much of this and you will find yourself feeling like a slug on the steering wheel with a stomach ache.
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Do you have any tips on how to fight sleepiness and stay alert when driving?
Useful tips. Now when I am the passenger I can snooze off. Stopped driving long distance after my heart surgery,😊🎉
Long drives can be so challenging on the body, especially with added health concerns. It’s always great to be able to have a nap and let someone else take the wheel.
Thank you for writing this article, Sue. A very important and needed to read article. At my crosswalk I’ll watch 600-1,000 drivers go through an hour. It is really scary the number of people yawning or almost ready to fall asleep. I read an article recently on Drowsy Driving that stated about 1 in 25 drivers 18 years or older report falling asleep behind the wheel in the past 30 days.
With Climate Emergency I hardly drive anymore. My crossing guard position doesn’t require a commute. And if I do go on a long trip I’ll take a bus or train. Preferably a train. Thank you again for writing and sharing! I used to leave for a destination really early and take breaks for a nap or a walk along the way.🙏
That is a very scary statistic Carl. I am about to do a long road trip to visit my Mom. It makes me think that not only should I be aware of my own drowsiness but as always will be watchful for other drivers. It must be shocking to see so many drivers tired behind the wheel.
On the prairies there aren’t a lot of options as far as bus or train travel. Not enough population to sustain it unfortunately. Hopefully that can change one day.
It really is an eye opener, Sue. One thing with Southern Ontario with the higher population density is that there are more options for bus and train travel. I imagine public transportation in the Prairies would be very scarce now. It was in my early 20’s when I took several trips across Canada on the train. Lots of stops in small prairie towns. They all had their iconic grain elevators. Here in Ontario so much track has been ripped up and new highways built instead over the past 50 years. Lots of push to bring trains back, but so expensive now to lay new track.
I hope you have a wonderful visit with your mom. 😀🙏
When I know I have to drive far, I always make sure to get a good night’s sleep the day before. In general, if I drive through mountain roads, with all the turns and bends, I usually stay alert throughout the journey. However, on long and straight highways and toll roads it’s harder to stay alert all the time. This is where music helps me. But I must admit that there were a few occasions in the past where I had to resort to caffeine drinks to give me that instant boost of alertness. I know it’s not good for the body, that’s why these days I tend to stick to the healthy ways.
Nothing like some windy, mountain roads to keep one’s alertness level high. Yes a good night’s sleep before is always wise. I try to save the caffeine as you do for when I really need it. those long straight roads are the most challenging.
These are all such great tips Sue & many I have practiced on long road trips. I admire your ability to sleep on a plane. Perhaps it is because of my height but trying to find a comfortable position in a seat on a plane is very much a challenge for me! It certainly doesn’t deter me from travel though!
Yes being shorter definitely has its advantages for air travel. Having not done a long haul flight for over two years who knows how things will go in the future. Perhaps I will have lost my ability to snooze on. Next week I’m off on a road trip east to visit my Mom so I imagine I will get lots of practice with the road trip tips on staying awake. Hope this finds you well Lynn.
Recently had to drive 1.5 hours home after three shifts at Oxfam Trailwalker including overnight. While I snatched some sleep between shifts I was concerned about the drive home. I discovered the energy drink. Good lordy, how do people drink those things every day? It was great, I didn’t feel drowsy at all on the drive home but I don’t think I could put my body through that every day.
Usually putting on the air con and singing very loudly are my go to for staying awake.
I have never tried an energy drink. I think I’ve always been fearful of sending my heart into some kind of catastrophic rhythm. Good tip on the air conditioning and singing. My loud singing may crack a window but worth a try. 🙂
These are helpful tips! I’m sharing this with my husband. It’s so important to stay awake and alert during long drives.
Thanks for sharing. As we move into road trip season safety and alertness on the road really is vital.
Definitely envy your ability to sleep on airplane rides. I find for long drives stretching and making sure to get in stops for fresh air help me the most. Stay alert out there and hope this finds you well.
Well it’s now been so long since I have been on a long haul flight maybe I’ve lost my knack for sleep. 🙂
I agree that fresh air and frequent stops are a great way to stay alert.
Sue, my partner had narcolepsy for most of his adult life. When he was younger he kept himself jacked up with tons of coffee to drive for business in various cities across North America and when he had a weekend farm outside of Toronto.
He did get tested twice at a sleep clinic. He had tried a prescribed light narcotic. But that played havoc on him and he didn’t want to get addicted to it to stay awake during way. His solution: was cycling. Cycling for transportation, fitness and touring. Cycling kept his body awake while on roads/paths for hours.
In the last 8 yrs. of life, he gradually drove rental cars less. He gave up his driver’s license approx. 1.5 yrs. before he passed. At that time, he drove only 1-2 times annually for past 5 yrs. anyway. It was a non-event. He rode his bike to the last day of his life. Happily.
Jean thank you so much for sharing your partner’s challenges with narcolepsy. It is clear cycling gave him much freedom and allowed him to move with confidence and happiness. Thinking of you and hoping cycling continues to bring you happiness as you navigate the world without him.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, Sue. Though I rarely am a driver on while traveling, I do like to stay awake throughout. That is amazing you can sleep quite well on planes despite the noise around you. Good to be nice and alert stepping off the plane on your holidays.
Taking care of yourself before, during and after driving is so important. I like that you mentioned car stretches and having frequent pit stops to refresh yourself on road-trips, and also nourish yourself with healthy food. Even as a passenger I make sure to stay away from eating too many chocolates and lollies in the car. Sometimes the driver might need my help with looking out for where to turn or maybe help with navigation, and I too want to be as alert as possible in these situations. Hope all is well, Sue 😊
Mabel there is nothing better than a great passenger to help with navigation and conversation. It is so much easier to stay awake and alert with a passenger. I’m sure the driver’s you have assisted have been grateful.
It is tempting to head to the sugar high snacks but like you I try to avoid them as much as possible.
As to sleeping on planes lets say I used to be very good at it. It has been such a long while since we have done a long flight I may have lost my touch!
Some great tips. I drove for business for a few years and it was a chore to stay awake, especially on the prairies where there is nothing to see for miles. I would open the window even when it was 30 C. Sometimes I would stop the car, get out and run around it a few times. I would snack on granola bars and there would be crumbs everywhere. I once spilled a cup of hot chocolate on my light grey pantsuit. It kept me awake but didn’t impress anyone at the business meeting.
Darlene I smiled through your whole comment. Although I hope you didn’t burn yourself with the hot chocolate. Like you my car looks like squirrels have had a conference inside by the time I get to a destination. Crumbs everywhere and I’ll confess to an occasional spill. Good tip about running around the vehicle. I’ll try that on the next road trip.