Ask LH: How Can I Avoid Falling Asleep On The Drive Home?

Hey Lifehacker, What would be the best way to ensure I stay awake when driving home from work each day? I have a 40-50 minute drive home every day, and it's become so straightforward that I find my eyes closing. It's not that I don't get enough sleep the night before (I get at least 7 hours every night), it's just that the drive is so habitual now that my brain seems to just 'check out'.

The scenery is exactly the same, the cars are generally exactly the same, I know where all the bumps in the road are. I've tried playing loud music and having my windows down, but they don't help much. What else could I do to keep my brain engaged, and not continually zoning out? Thanks, Almost Asleep At The Wheel

Sleeping driver picture from Shutterstock

Dear AAATW,

First off, it can't be overstated enough that if you ever begin to feel lethargic or drowsy while driving, you really need to pull over for a few minutes and revive yourself. Trying to keep your eyes open through will-power alone is akin to playing Russian roulette -- don't do it.

That said, there are plenty of ways to stay alert and well-rested behind the wheel without the need for a mental pit stop. This infographic shows a bunch of simple ways to keep yourself awake, including pulling down on your earlobes, rubbing the back of your hand between your thumb and index finger (not really advisable while driving), and sniffing peppermint oil.

But these are all short-term solutions. What you really want to do is identify what is making you tired in the first place -- boredom and monotony are likely to be the catalyst rather than the root cause.

The first thing to do is to assess the quality of your sleep. As we have noted in the past, the amount of 'deep sleep' you get is generally more important than the total number of hours. If you tend to toss and turn in bed, those seven hours probably aren't doing their job. This in-depth article explains how various technologies can help you get a perfect night's shut-eye.

Other than that, some other possible solutions include using public transport for part of your journey, playing podcasts which tend to be more engaging than music and driving home via different routes.

Depending on how fit you are, you may find that an improved diet and a bit of extra exercise could also boost your energy levels. You can find plenty of fitness and dietary advice via our Losing Weight, Eating Healthy and Exercise tags.

If any readers have their own remedies against unwanted sleepiness, let AAATW know in the comments section below.

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Comments

    I had this exact same issue in a previous job and I took to drinking a Red Bull before every drive home. Worked a treat. Granted, it's probably not the best long term solution though.

    The problem seems to be that you are bored of the monotony of the drive and your brain is not being actively engaged in the task. I would make a very strong recommendation for something that has worked for me for years (especially for drives longer then 4 hours) and that is audiobooks. By simply playing the audiobook on these drives i find that i am a lot alert and aware because my brain is being engaged (plus entertained).

    I used to eat Curly Wurlys when I was a teenager making the 90 minute drive home from the city after a night out (sober - I didn't drink at all back then). The sugar perked me up, and the chewing gave me something to focus on. Not great for the waistline, but at 18 that didn't really matter.

    Let me know where and when you drive. I'll try to avoid those areas and times.

    I tried podcasts and audiobooks but found that made things worse. As my mind was tired it would 'drift off' to focussing purely on what I was listening to.

    The eventual solution was to listen to music that would keep me awake. In my case, lots of metal. Lamb of God, Pantera and Slipknot ended up being my driving pals.

    This had another pitfall though, it's way to easy to speed like a maniac when listening to this stuff (luckily where I am in country Vic, speed cameras are far and few between, and always in the same spots).

    Seems like everyone is missing a very easy solution here; take another route.

    Even if it's a slight change of streets, engaging your mind to break up the norm on top of changing your scenery will greatly reduce the feeling of needing to sleep. I personally have a different way to work as to when I go home. I then sometimes switch those up or take a different street or two along the way. Admittedly my drive is only 30 minutes, but I can say without a doubt, that switching things up keeps you far more lively.

    While I'm not your doctor, you should really see your GP, tell him about your symptoms, ask him to consider obstructive sleep apnoea and get a sleep study if she or he deems it necessary.

      Yep couldn't agree more I thought the same thing after reading his story. A sleep test is a must as it will assist with identifying your quality of sleep compared to just hours.

    I found music only works if your singing too it. I work nightshift and the 6am drive home is hard. I keep the car temp low, around 20 degrees and sing along loudly to my favourite music.
    Keep a lookout for the Gizmodo Rukus at 6am driving home from the airport. There will be a cold lunatic singing in the front.

    Last edited 08/01/14 10:27 pm

    Drive a ferrari.

    Theres an extremely easy way to stayawake durong long periods of driving; chewing gum. Put a couple of pieces in your mouth while you drive, and its near impossible to fall asleep.

    go a different way.
    stop at maccas and have a coffee IN STORE.
    see a shop? stop, and have a look

    break up your drive, but if you are feeling like you are going to fall asleep, PLEASE do not continue driving.

    fatigue is more dangerous than speeding!

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