How to Avoid Falling Asleep While Driving

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths in 2013. Other research claims these figures are actually underestimated and suggests that up to 6,000 fatal crashes are caused by drowsy driving occur each year.

A lack of sleep can seriously affect your reaction time, judgment, and ability to concentrate, which can be especially dangerous if you are driving. Whether you're about to embark on a long road trip or not, you need to read these tips on how to avoid drowsy driving.

Man falling asleep behind wheel while driving
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How to Avoid Falling Asleep While Driving

If you're like a lot of other people, your first stop once you've started the car is for coffee. Although caffeine, energy drinks, and other tricks may revive you temporarily, they're not reliable and they don't work for long periods of time.

The best solution for driver fatigue is to not be tired in the first place. Here are some tips to make sure you're alert during a long drive:

  • No Sleep Debt: In preparation for a long drive, make sure you've had several nights of 7 to 9 hours of sleep in a row. You'll feel refreshed and ready to go.
  • Take Breaks: You might feel tempted to avoid taking breaks to get your destination as quickly as possible, but breaks will allow you to get out of the car, move around, and stretch. Plan for breaks to eat and wake up. You might even be able to squeeze in a quick 20-minute nap.
  • Arrive by Midnight: The time between midnight and early morning is when our body most wants to be sleeping, making it the most dangerous time to be driving. If you can't avoid driving at night, at least try to split the trip up into two legs and spend a night in a hotel.
  • Take Turns: If you're traveling with others, you should absolutely rotate time behind the wheel. This will give you time to relax and catch some Zs.
  • Know the Warning Signs: If you can't remember the last few moments of driving, are yawning constantly or can't keep your eyes focused, either hand the wheel to someone else or pull over for a nap.

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.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Drowsy Driving"

  2. US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel | Features.

  3. US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Drowsy Driving.

  4. National Institutes of Health; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Your Guide to Healthy Sleep. NIH Publication No. 06-5271.

By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.