How to Stay Awake on Long Road Trips (for Drivers and Passengers)

Whether you’re the sole driver, a co-driver, or just a passenger, avoiding dozing off during long drives is always a big concern. According to the U.S. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drowsy driving leads to about 328,000 crashes every year.

These highly effective tips to prevent drowsy driving will help ensure you reach your destination safely.

Staying Awake Naturally on Long Drives

Caffeine may be the universally accepted go-to solution to fight drowsiness, but it’s not the healthiest. Here are some alternative, natural ways you can stay awake when on a road trip:

• Take a quick nap

If you’re the only driver for the trip, you should have a good rest before starting out. If you start to get sleepy while on the road, the best thing to do is take a quick nap for a few minutes.

Co-drivers should ideally switch driving duties every two hours, or 100 miles. If you’re a co-driver and not feeling up for a nap, you should still rest your eyes from time to time to avoid dozing off during your turn. Sitting still with your eyes closed for as little as ten minutes can refresh your senses, so you can stay fully awake behind the wheel.

Co-passengers should ideally take turns sleeping too. If you’re the only co-passenger, it’s advisable you opt for taking short naps over falling asleep for hours.

• Eat healthy snacks

For most people, the usual menu for a road trip is comprised of sugary or caffeinated drinks and fried foods. Sugary snacks tend to give you a short-term energy boost, but when your blood sugar levels dip back to normal, you can get foggy and lethargic.

The best snacks for long trips are healthy, high-energy foods such as fresh fruit, nuts, and yogurt. Celery sticks or whole-grain crackers combined with peanut butter make for a delicious, easy-to-fix snack. You might not get too many healthy snacking options once you’re on the road, so it’s best to pack plenty of them before starting your road trip.

Dehydration directly leads to fatigue. Make sure to drink plenty of water or natural juices while on the road.

• Turn on the lights

Long nighttime drives are usually made with the interior lights dimmed down. It does create the perfect atmosphere. But, if you’re trying to fight fatigue and drowsiness, it’s best to turn up those lights. Brighter lights naturally increase alertness to help you stay awake on your journey.

• Open the windows

Simply opening the windows and letting some fresh air in can break the monotonous atmosphere inside a moving vehicle and help you shrug off drowsiness. When looking out through the glass with the windows up, the glaze can make you sluggish and prone to falling asleep.

Short of actually getting out of the vehicle, letting in natural air, and experiencing the sights and sounds of the world outside is one of the best ways of waking yourself up during long road trips.

• Pull over once in a while

Being in the car for a long time can affect your alertness even if you’re sharing the driving duties with one or more passengers. The white noise, and the overall monotonous environment of the car’s interior have a way of making passengers get comfortable over time. The best way to break this trance is to pull off at a safe spot and get out of the car.

Try moving around a bit. A quick stroll, light stretching, or even some jumping jacks will help you relax and reenergize for the journey ahead.

• Engage in conversation

It doesn’t have to be anything specific; regular chitter-chatter will do just fine. Conversations are one of the best natural ways to stay awake on a road trip.

Books, movies, sports, weather, and even politics can be good subjects to discuss over a long trip.

If you’re the driver, make sure to keep an eye on the road at all times. Also, try to keep the conversation light. If things start to get heated at any point, change the subject.

• Play music, sing along

Nothing stimulates the senses quite as well as listening to music, except maybe for singing along. These are also excellent ways of turning those boring hours in the car into a fun, memorable experience.

But, even the excitement brought on by music and singing has its time limits.

If the music and singing start to lose the edge, take a break. The constants of the driving experience — the highway sights and sounds, the engine’s hum, and even continuously playing music — can lull you to sleep. Use it judiciously, at regular intervals, and stick to music that’s appealing to everyone inside the car.

If you’re behind the wheel, don’t let your co-passengers’ merriment affect your duties as a driver. Make sure the music and singing don’t get so loud that they start to distract you or others on the road.

• Maintain good posture

Whether you’re driving, riding shotgun, or sitting in the passenger seats, keeping a good posture can help you avoid dozing off. Behind the wheel, you should always hold your head up and keep your back straight. Passengers who wish to keep from falling asleep should follow suit.

Watch Out for These Warning Signs

When driving long distances, it’s common for everyone along for the ride to eventually lose their enthusiasm. There might come a point when nobody is interested in singing or listening to their favorite tunes, or even talking. At such times, you might not even realize how sleepy you are unless you watch out for these telltale signs:

  • You can’t remember the last few miles you’ve covered.
  • You’re yawning repeatedly.
  • You’re finding it difficult to keep your head up.
  • You’re experiencing disjointed thoughts.
  • You find your vehicle drifting from your driving lane.
  • You’re having trouble keeping your eyes open or focusing on the road ahead.

If you find yourself experiencing any of these signs as a driver, pull over and take a nap, or switch with your co-driver. If you’re a passenger and notice the driver experiencing these symptoms, make the driver stop the car and get some rest.

Using Caffeine Responsibly

If you’re used to using caffeine for staying awake, caffeine-free methods might not work all the time for you.

The best time to have coffee is right after a meal. Caffeine also helps curb the full feeling you get after eating. Energy drinks such as Red Bull, NOS, Monster, and XS Energy can also help you fight sleepiness when other options have failed. Make sure not to drink too much of a drink you haven’t tried before.

In Summary

The open road can be incredibly enjoyable, but everyone suffers from fatigue on long drives occasionally. If you have ample time to plan your long road trip, try to do most of the driving during the day, when you’re naturally more awake. Also, pick a reliable driving partner if it’s an option. Make sure you’re well-rested, have plenty of healthy snacks and supplies, travel insurance, and a full tank of gas.

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