Falling asleep behind the wheel is a serious matter that can, and often does, lead to an accident with serious injuries and even death as the result. Some studies have shown that up to 30 percent of vehicle accidents may have had tiredness or sleepiness as a contributing factor. Most chronic problems with wanting to fall asleep at inopportune times are related to medical conditions or medications, but sometimes you’re just too tired and should not be driving to begin with.
Being sleepy negatively impacts your ability to pay attention to the road and the actions of those around you, slows your reaction time, and affects your ability to make good decisions – it’s not just about nodding off behind the wheel. So, avoid becoming one of the statistics and learn everything you need to know.
It is always the driver’s responsibility to ensure that they stay alert and awake when driving, regardless of how energetic they feel before the trip starts or whether there is a passenger present. It is not up to the other occupants of the vehicle to keep the driver awake – the driver must prepare for the journey correctly, be willing to take turns driving, or stop for regular breaks, to ensure they remain alert. If there is a risk that they could become drowsy while driving, especially if they are already aware of an underlying condition that could cause it, they need to plan ahead, take the correct medications, or prepare to switch out driving duties when required.
The driver is always responsible for the repercussions of falling asleep at the wheel. Consequences of falling asleep include veering off the road and colliding with other vehicles or objects, leading to serious injury, and even death. This impacts not only the driver, but their passengers and other road-users, too.
Driving drowsy is not always just as a result of sleeping badly the night before a trip, being overly fatigued from work, suffering jet lag from your last business trip, or simply being lazy. As many as one out of five people suffer from Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) and many sleep disturbances and untreated disorders are also linked to drowsy driving. Many medical conditions have sleepiness mentioned in their descriptions, too, and including dementia, narcolepsy, chronic insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and Parkinson’s disease. The one most frequently associated with drowsy driving and falling asleep while driving, however, is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS).
OSAS is a breathing disorder whereby partial upper-airway obstruction causes episodes of reduced and/or absent breathing. The affected individual not only suffers from reduced blood-oxygen saturation and disrupted sleep, but it also contributes to EDS and impaired cognitive function due to interfering with restorative sleep. These symptoms damage the person’s long-term health. People might not even be aware of their OSAS upon waking.
Side effects of commonly-used medications can also lead to drowsiness, and while many people may not even be aware of this when they take an antihistamine or some pain medications, they may find themselves feeling sleepy shortly after. Many antidepressants, anxiety meds, beta-blockers, and even muscle relaxants can cause drowsiness, too. It’s very important to always know the side-effects of any medication you take, especially if you are going to drive thereafter.
If there are any risks of drowsiness on a long trip, take these precautions and use these tips:
Remember, the sleepiness when driving won’t go away once it has started. How to not fall asleep while driving starts with not fooling yourself into thinking that you can remedy the situation by turning the music up and continuing to drive. Stop and rest – don’t even dream of taking the chance. Excessive coffee, energy drinks, and caffeine tablets might not be very healthy, but are preferable to a driver asleep at the wheel, so take them if they help. And since caffeine is a diuretic, it will force you to make more bathroom stops, which is a good thing.
If you’re yawning, drifting across lanes, hitting a rumble strip on the road side, or find yourself wondering how you drove the last few miles, you’re in trouble. Even a moment of inattentiveness can lead to a fatal accident. This is how to stay awake while driving:
Nowadays, cars come with advanced automotive technology to detect low levels of driver alertness, but these features are sometimes only available as extras or on the best trims. It might be worth ticking the box for that smart tech when buying a car, especially if you are regularly taking on long roadtrips. These systems have cameras that monitor the driver’s face to look for signs of drowsiness; the steering pattern can be monitored, as well as whether the car is wandering in its lane. The driver is alerted via a chime, vibrating seat or steering wheel, or tugging seatbelt. For example, Cadillac’s Super Cruise feature available on the Escalade, their full-size SUV, monitors eyelid movement and head orientation. Even hatchback vehicles like the Mazda 3 offer a driver attention alert feature as standard.