Drowsy Driving Dangers: How to Stay Awake on the Road and When to Pull Over

At risk for sleep-related car crashes: shift workers, teens, truck drivers, and people with untreated sleep apnea.
Driving while sleepy is dangerous, no matter how short the car ride or how many distractions are keeping you awake. And people who suffer from sleep disorders are at a much higher risk of making poor decisions, losing concentration, or—worst-case scenario—falling asleep at the wheel.

Once drowsiness grips you, there's no way to fight it off. But you may be able to stop sleepiness before it starts—and before you set foot in the car.

Plan ahead with caffeine and a nap
If you know you'll be driving for long enough to get sleepy, drink a cup of coffee and take a 15-minute nap before you go. "That way, when you get up, the coffee has kicked in, and the boost from the nap will give you an extra level of energy," says Ralph Downey III, PhD, director of Loma Linda University Sleep Disorders Center in California.

Keep your muscles moving
If you do feel alert enough to get in the car safely, try this trick once you're on the road: Downey's patients like to eat sunflower seeds while they drive, because it takes some effort to crack open the shell with your teeth and work the seed out with your tongue. "When our muscles are moving our bodies tend to be more alert," he says. Still, sunflower seeds won't cure drowsiness any more than loud singing. "The important point is this: If you are to the point of being creative to stay awake and drive, you probably shouldn't be driving."

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Last Updated: April 04, 2008

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