Home / Blog July 11, 2024

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Highway Hypnosis: Why Does Driving Make You Tired?

In this blog, we discuss why driving can make you feel sleepy. We also share tips on how to stay awake when driving for long and even how to create a comfortable sleep environment in a moving car if you have the opportunity to switch drivers.

Why Does Driving Make You Tired?

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Factors leading to drowsy driving include monotony, poor ventilation, and staying sedentary.

If you experience frequent yawning and difficulty focusing, you’re too tired to drive.

To combat drowsy driving, take regular breaks, stay hydrated, and avoid stimulants. 

Did you know?
When you’re extremely tired, you may experience microsleeps, which are brief episodes of sleep that last just a few seconds but could be dangerous if you’re on the road!

Do you ever wonder why the open road sometimes feels like a lullaby, lulling you into a drowsy state as you navigate the highways and byways? When you’re behind the wheel, especially during long stretches of monotonous driving, your brain can enter a state of autopilot. Combine that with the steady hum of the engine and the gentle swaying of the car, and it’s the perfect recipe for a sleepy driver. But worry not! There are ways to combat this highway hypnosis and arrive at your destination safely and alert

So buckle up, and let’s explore why you might get tired when you drive, and how to keep those eyes wide open on the road ahead.

Why Do I Get Tired When I Drive?

Here are several reasons why you might feel tired when you’re driving:

1. Monotonous Environment: Driving for long periods on highways or roads with little variation in scenery can lead to monotony, causing your brain to become bored and more susceptible to fatigue.

2. Lack of Sleep: If you haven’t had enough sleep or are experiencing poor sleep quality, you’re more likely to feel tired while driving. Sleep deprivation can impair your ability to stay alert and focused on the road.

3. Inadequate Rest Breaks: Failing to take regular breaks during long drives can lead to fatigue accumulation. Your body needs periodic rest to recharge, and prolonged driving without breaks can result in increased drowsiness.

4. Poor Ventilation: A stuffy or poorly ventilated car interior can make you feel drowsy. Fresh air circulation helps keep you alert, so ensure your vehicle’s ventilation system is working correctly.

5. Sedentary Position: Sitting in the same position for an extended period can cause physical discomfort and contribute to fatigue. Adjust your seating position regularly and stretch your muscles to prevent stiffness and drowsiness.

6. Dehydration: Not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration, which causes fatigue and contributes to impaired cognitive function. Stay hydrated by drinking water regularly, especially during long drives.

7. Underlying Health Conditions: Certain medical conditions, like sleep disorders, allergies, or medication side effects, can increase fatigue while driving. If you suspect a health issue is contributing to your tiredness, consult with a healthcare professional.

8. Stress and Anxiety: High levels of stress or anxiety can drain your energy and make you feel tired, even if you’re not physically exerting yourself. Practice relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or listening to calming music, to help reduce stress while driving.

9. Circadian Rhythm: Your body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Driving during times when your body naturally experiences a dip in alertness, like late at night or early in the morning, can increase feelings of sleepiness.

Knowing this, let’s look at what you can do to stay awake while driving for a long period of time!

Why Does Driving Make You Tired?

How To Stop Feeling Sleepy When Driving

Here’s what you should do to stop feeling drowsy while on the road:

1. Pull Over Safely: The most important step is to pull over to a safe location as soon as possible. Find a rest area, parking lot, or other safe stopping point where you can safely park your car.

2. Take a Break: Once you’ve stopped, get out of the car and stretch your legs. Take a short walk and do some light exercises to get your blood flowing and wake up your body.

3. Get Some Fresh Air: Step outside and take a few deep breaths of fresh air. If the weather permits, roll down the windows to let in fresh air and increase circulation within the car. The cool breeze can help wake you up and keep you alert.

4. Drink Caffeine: If you have access to caffeine, like coffee or energy drinks, consuming a moderate amount can help temporarily boost alertness. However, be cautious not to rely on caffeine as a long-term solution, and avoid excessive consumption that could lead to jitteriness or a caffeine crash later on.

5. Nap: If you’re feeling extremely drowsy, take a short nap in your car if it’s safe to do so. Set an alarm for 20-30 minutes to prevent oversleeping, and make sure you’re parked in a safe location away from traffic.

6. Change Drivers: If you’re traveling with someone else who is well-rested, consider switching drivers to allow the tired driver to rest and recuperate.

7. Stay Hydrated: Drink water to stay hydrated, as dehydration can contribute to feelings of fatigue. However, avoid excessive fluid intake to prevent the need for frequent bathroom breaks.

8. Listen to Upbeat Music or Podcasts: Play energetic music or engaging podcasts to stimulate your mind and help combat drowsiness. Avoid overly soothing or relaxing music that could lull you back to sleep.

9. Chew Gum: Chewing gum can help increase alertness and keep you awake by stimulating your senses and promoting blood flow to the brain.

10. Avoid Heavy Meals: Refrain from eating heavy or large meals before driving, as digestion can make you feel sleepy. Stick to light, healthy snacks if you need to eat on the road.

Remember, it’s never safe to drive when you’re feeling excessively sleepy or fatigued. If you’re too tired to continue driving safely, it's better to delay your journey or find alternative transportation arrangements than to risk putting yourself and others in danger on the road.

In the next section, we discuss some tell-tale signs that you’re too sleepy to be on the road.

Signs That You’re Too Tired To Drive

Here are some common indicators that you should not be driving due to fatigue:

1. Frequent Yawning: Excessive yawning, especially accompanied by difficulty keeping your eyes open, is a clear indicator of fatigue.

2. Heavy Eyelids: If your eyelids feel heavy and droopy, or if you find yourself struggling to keep them open, you’re too tired to drive safely.

3. Difficulty Focusing: Fatigue can impair your ability to concentrate and focus on the road ahead. If you find yourself having trouble maintaining attention or staying alert, it’s time to stop driving.

4. Slower Reaction Times: Fatigue can slow down your reaction times, making it harder to respond quickly to changing traffic conditions or hazards on the road.

5. Drifting Between Lanes: If you notice yourself drifting between lanes or onto the shoulder of the road, you’re too tired to drive safely – so take a break off the road.

6. Missing Exits or Turns: Difficulty following directions or missing exits and turns is a sign of cognitive impairment due to fatigue.

7. Daydreaming or Zoning Out: If you catch yourself daydreaming or zoning out while driving, your mind is not fully engaged in the task at hand.

8. Frequent Blinking: Fatigue can cause increased blinking or blinking for longer durations, which can impair your ability to see clearly and react to potential dangers on the road.

9. Restlessness or Irritability: Feeling restless, irritable, or anxious while driving indicates that you’re too tired to operate a vehicle safely.

10. Difficulty Remembering the Last Few Miles: If you have trouble recalling the last few miles you’ve driven, it’s a sign that you’re experiencing highway hypnosis, a trance-like state that occurs when driving while fatigued.

11. Microsleep Episodes: Brief moments of unintentional sleep, known as microsleeps, can occur when you’re extremely tired. These episodes last for a few seconds and can be incredibly dangerous while driving.

12. Physical Symptoms: Fatigue can manifest as physical symptoms like headaches, muscle stiffness, or feeling physically weak or drained.

If you experience any of these signs while driving, pull over to a safe location as soon as possible and take a break.

Next, let’s look at which groups of people are more likely to experience drowsy driving.

Why Does Driving Make You Tired?

Who Is More Likely To Fall Asleep When Driving?

Certain groups of people are more likely to drive drowsy. These include:

1. Shift Workers: Individuals who work irregular or overnight shifts, like healthcare workers, first responders, and transportation workers, are at higher risk of driving drowsy due to disrupted sleep schedules and circadian rhythms.

2. Commercial Drivers: Truck drivers, delivery drivers, and other professional drivers who spend long hours behind the wheel are more susceptible to drowsy driving, as their job demands often require extended periods of driving without adequate rest breaks.

3. Young Adults: Young adults, particularly those aged 18 to 29, are more likely to drive drowsy compared to other age groups. Factors like irregular sleep patterns, late-night social activities, and academic or work-related stress can contribute to increased drowsy driving among this demographic.

4. Adults with Sleep Disorders: People with sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, or narcolepsy are at higher risk of driving drowsy due to poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness.

5. Parents of Young Children: Parents, especially those with infants or young children, may experience sleep disruptions and sleep deprivation, making them more prone to driving drowsy.

6. Frequent Travelers: People who frequently travel long distances for work or leisure may be more susceptible to drowsy driving, as extended periods of driving can lead to fatigue and decreased alertness.

7. Individuals with Undiagnosed Health Conditions: Certain medical conditions like depression, anxiety, or chronic pain can disrupt sleep and increase the likelihood of drowsy driving among those experiencing these challenges.

8. Medication Users: Some medications, including certain prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications, can cause drowsiness or impair alertness, making driving unsafe. People taking sedating medications should exercise caution and avoid driving when drowsy.

9. Alcohol or Drug Users: Alcohol consumption and drug use, including recreational drugs with sedating effects, can impair judgment, coordination, and reaction times, increasing the risk of drowsy driving accidents.

It’s essential for these at-risk groups to be aware of the dangers of drowsy driving and take proactive measures to prevent it.

If you find that you’re too tired to drive and can switch with someone else, then in the next section, we share some tips on how to create a cozy sleep environment while on the road.

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How To Fall Asleep In A Moving Car

Here are several tips to help you create a comfortable sleep environment while in a moving car:

1. Find a Comfortable Position: Experiment with different seating or sleeping positions until you find one that feels comfortable. This might involve reclining your seat slightly, using a bolster pillow for support, or stretching out your legs if space allows.

2. Block Out Light and Noise: Use a sleep mask and earplugs to block out light and reduce noise distractions, creating a more conducive environment for sleep.

3. Choose the Right Time: Try to schedule your road nap during times when you’re naturally sleepy, like late at night or during your usual bedtime. Your body’s internal clock can make it easier to fall asleep during these times.

4. Avoid Stimulants: Refrain from consuming stimulants like caffeine or sugary drinks before and during your journey, as these can interfere with your ability to relax and fall asleep.

5. Practice Deep Breathing: Engage in deep breathing exercises to help relax your body and mind. Inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth, focusing on releasing tension with each breath.

6. Listen to Relaxing Music or White Noise: Play calming music or white noise through headphones or the car’s audio system to drown out external sounds and promote relaxation.

7. Limit Screen Time: Avoid looking at screens, like smartphones or tablets, before attempting to sleep, as the blue light emitted from these devices can interfere with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

8. Take Short Naps: If you’re unable to fall into a deep sleep, consider taking short power naps of 20-30 minutes to recharge and refresh your mind.

9. Reduce Motion Sickness: If motion sickness is a concern, sit in the front seat of the car or focus on the horizon to help alleviate symptoms and make it easier to relax.

10. Avoid Heavy Meals: Refrain from eating heavy meals before or during your journey, as digestion can interfere with your ability to fall asleep comfortably.

11. Use a Sleep Aid: Pack a travel weighted blanket like our Travel Napper. The gentle pressure of the weighted blanket mimics the feeling of being hugged, helping to calm the nervous system and encourage sleepiness. Opt for a compact and lightweight option specifically designed for travel to ensure it doesn’t take up too much space in the car.

By incorporating these tips into your travel routine, you can increase your chances of falling asleep in a moving car and arrive at your destination feeling rested and refreshed.

Conclusion

Understanding why driving makes you tired is crucial for road safety. Factors like monotony, lack of sleep, and poor ventilation contribute to drowsiness. By recognizing signs of fatigue and taking preventive measures like regular breaks, staying hydrated, and addressing underlying health issues, you can reduce the risk of drowsy driving and its consequences.