Driver fatigue: how to avoid feeling sleepy at the wheel

November 6, 2020 4 mins read
Driver fatigue: how to avoid feeling sleepy at the wheel

Did you know that driver fatigue has the same risks of danger as that of driving under the influence of alcohol? It’s a scary thought, we know.

Driver fatigue contributes to thousands of road accidents each year and not just from long long-distance driving. Poor sleeping habits can contribute to driver fatigue at virtually any driving distance which is why staying alert and knowing the signs of driver fatigue can help prevent you from getting into a dangerous situation.

Let’s explore ways to avoid getting tired behind the wheel so that you can enjoy many more miles.

What causes driving fatigue?

The leading cause behind driver fatigue is not getting enough quality sleep.

Sleep deprivation can diminish your alertness and concentration, bring on bouts of drowsiness, cause short sleep episodes, limit your reaction times, and affect your ability to make decisions.

When you’re behind the wheel, your fatigue could be caused by one of the following reasons:

  • Sunglare that can make your eyes strain causing you to over-focus, bringing on fatigue.
  • Natural dips in your circadian rhythm. Driving after lunch and experiencing post-lunch energy decrease as well as dusk and dawn driving.
  • Driving under the influence of medication with drowsy side effects.

5 Ways to prevent driver fatigue

Getting enough sleep and incorporating these helpful tips before you set out on any journey (long or short distance) can improve your driving performance and make your trip safer.

1. Stop in a safe place

Even though you managed to get enough sleep the night before, it’s still a good idea to schedule breaks at safe stop-zones. Ideally, aim to stop every 2 hours, to get out and stretch, have a bite to eat and breathe in some fresh air. Any long road trips should be about the journey, so be sure to leave enough time to enjoy the route and take breaks when you need to.

2. Take a short nap

If you’re starting to feel like you’re losing concentration, plan a longer break at your next stop and take a nap. The benefit of taking a nap, even a quick power nap of 15–20 minutes will leave you feeling rested, and more energised to continue your journey.

3. Drink coffee

As caffeine is a stimulant and will give you an energy boost, it must be consumed in moderation. If you’re driving in the early morning, it can be helpful to power up your body clock for the day ahead. However, only relying on caffeine to keep you awake for long periods is not recommended. Caffeine, as much as it is a stimulant, can bring on the z’s as the effects wear off.

4. Stay hydrated

Did you know that staying hydrated is key to staying awake? Drinking water gives you energy (even in normal daily activities) by keeping the effects of dehydration at bay. Dehydration makes your body go into reserve mode, limiting the amount of energy you consume. This can make you feel sleepy as your brain goes into a mental decline.

Another perk of drinking water on the road is that it will force you to stop and use the bathroom, letting you take a break and scratch your legs.

5. Improve sleep hygiene

Getting quality sleep can not only help fight fatigue but keep your mind alert, allowing you to make quick decisions and keeping your reactive abilities in top form. If you know that you have a long drive in your future, start improving your sleep hygiene habits. If you’re naturally feeling refreshed during the day, you’re less likely to encounter fatigue.

The importance of safe driving

As more and more drivers are on the road each year, it’s important to make sure that our driving abilities aren’t compromised. We’re constantly being distracted by our devices, weather, and other drivers, so limiting fatigue is necessary to keep us and others safe on the road.

When we are at our best, physically and mentally, we are less likely to make mistakes, pay more attention to the rules of the road and can tackle any obstacles that may arise.

Safe driving starts with good sleep.