Effective Ways to Avoid Feeling Sleepy While Driving

Effective Ways to Avoid Feeling Sleepy While Driving

Driving while feeling sleepy can be as dangerous as drunk driving due to impaired focus, coordination, and judgment. Nearly 100,000 car accidents are reported every year in the US due to drowsy driving. This article discusses 11 effective ways to avoid feeling sleepy behind the wheel and stay alert during long drives. Follow these research-backed tips to drive safely and reach your destination without risking your or others’ lives due to drowsiness.

1. Get Enough Sleep Before a Long Drive

The most important thing is to get adequate, high-quality sleep of 7-9 hours before embarking on a long drive. Being well-rested is key to staying alert. If short on time, at least try to sleep in the car during breaks. Insufficient or poor sleep leaves you vulnerable to drowsiness while driving. Plan your travels ensuring you don’t cut into your regular sleep schedule.

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2. Have a Buddy System While Driving

Ideally, take turns driving with a companion so one can rest while the other drives. You’ll be able to stay awake chatting with your co-pilot. If alone, consider calling family/friends en route to engage in conversation. Commercial drivers follow the buddy system rule to drive safely during long hauls. Pair up if making long solo trips

3. Take Short Power Naps During Breaks

Take a 15-20 minute power nap during rest stops to feel refreshed. Napping is shown to boost alertness for up to 3 hours. Find a safe, well-lit area away from traffic noise to nap comfortably. Set an alarm and don’t oversleep. A short nap can reinvigorate you enough to continue driving alertly.

4. Listen to Music to Stay Focused

Play your favorite upbeat tunes that you can sing along to. Music engages multiple parts of your brain, keeping you mentally alert. Avoid slow, calming music as it may induce sleepiness. Choose music that energizes and stimulates you. Turn up the volume to keep yourself engaged during the drive.

5. Drink Coffee or Other Caffeinated Beverages

Caffeine is a legal stimulant proven to counter sleep deprivation effects for a few hours. One study showed it reduces crash risk during long drives. Sip coffee or an energy drink containing 100mg of caffeine every few hours. Be aware that caffeine’s effects wear off after a few hours, so don’t rely on it alone if severely sleepy.

6. Avoid Alcohol and Sedating Medications Before Driving

Alcohol, prescription drugs, OTC medications, and herbal supplements can cause drowsiness, especially in combination. Read labels and ask your doctor about any medication’s sedative effects. Don’t drink alcohol if driving or taking sedating medications. Find alternate transportation if unable to drive safely due to medications.

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7. Take Regular Short Breaks Every Two Hours

Pull over every 2 hours at well-lit rest areas or fuel stops. Stretch your legs, change your environment, and let your eyes rest from the road momentarily. Even a 10-15 minute break helps you stay alert for the next leg of your journey. Avoid reading, eating, or engaging in activities requiring focus during breaks.

8. Pull Over Immediately if You Feel Very Sleepy

If experiencing warning signs of drowsiness like uncontrolled yawning, drifting between lanes, or an inability to remember the last few miles, pull over right away before you doze off behind the wheel. Find a safe spot away from traffic to nap until fully alert again. Don’t try to “tough it out”, as losing consciousness puts lives at risk.

9. Consider Alternative Transportation Options

If drowsy driving is a frequent issue, look into ride-sharing apps, public transport, taxis, cycling, or walking short distances. Carpool with coworkers or neighbors. Ask your employer about vanpooling programs. Work remotely if your job allows, to avoid commutes when sleepy. Prioritize safe options over risking an accident from drowsiness.

10. Recognize the Signs of Drowsiness

Be aware of danger signs like frequent yawning, daydreaming, drifting between lanes, heavy eyelids, head repeatedly nodding forward, etc. Know your body and when you’re too fatigued to drive alertly. Catching warning signs early allows pulling over before a potential accident occurs due to a microsleep episode.

11. When to See a Doctor

Chronic daytime sleepiness could indicate an underlying sleep disorder. See your doctor if drowsy driving is a frequent struggle despite good sleep hygiene. Medical conditions like sleep apnea also increase the risk. Get screened for potential issues impairing your ability to stay alert. Proper diagnosis and treatment improve both sleep quality and road safety.

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Q. What do I do if I start feeling sleepy on the highway with no exits nearby?

A: Open your windows fully, turn up the radio, and blast cold air to startle your system awake momentarily. Be extra vigilant and watch for the next exit. Consider pulling over on the shoulder in an emergency until fully alert. Don’t risk an accident by driving much further while drowsy.

Q. Does chewing gum or eating help stay awake?

A: No, these are unreliable tricks with no scientific evidence. Snacking or chewing causes distraction versus real wakefulness. Caffeine is the only proven safe short-term countermeasure for drowsiness backed by research.

Q. How much sleep do teens need to drive alert?

A: Teens aged 16-17 need 8-10 hours of sleep per night on average. Their developing prefrontal cortex involved in planning and impulse control is more impaired by sleep loss. Lack of sufficient sleep in teens increases crash risk significantly.

Q. Why do doctors advise against driving after anesthesia or surgery?

A: Anesthesia causes residual grogginess and slowed reactions for 24 hours on average. Pain medications post-surgery have similar effects. Driving under the influence of either puts yourself and others at risk due to impaired coordination, focus, and judgment.

Q. Is it okay to drive while feeling very tired if it’s just a short distance?

A: No, do not risk even short-distance trips if excessively sleepy. Microsleeps can cause accidents within seconds. Call a cab, or friend or use public transport for safety. Your alertness level matters more than distance alone. Fatigue impairs driving ability regardless of trip length.


Drowsy driving endangers lives as much as drunk driving. Following these 12 practical tips can help you stay alert during long drives. Always prioritize adequate rest, hydration, exercise, and a healthy diet for optimal alertness and mental acuity behind the wheel. When tired, choose alternate transportation or pull over to nap. Your safety and that of other road users depend on consciously avoiding drowsy driving at all costs. Drive defensively and reach your destination safely.


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