Drowsy driving is a serious cause of car accidents. It affects many types of people, including late shift workers, commercial truck drivers, people with sleep disorders, and people who are just staying out late.

It especially becomes a problem in the fall and winter months as the days get shorter and the sun goes down earlier and earlier. Some commuters may find themselves driving both to and from work each day in darkness.

Many people prefer to avoid driving at night not only because it’s harder to see, but because it can make you more tired. The brain starts releasing chemicals that cause drowsiness when the sun goes down to let the body know it’s time to sleep, which is a big problem when the sun goes down at 5:30 pm!

WATCH: Gary Bruce discusses driving while drowsy.

Warning Signs That You’re Too Drowsy to Drive Safely

Driving while tired can cause many of the same impairments as driving while drunk. That’s why it is so important to know how to recognize the signs in yourself. These include:

  • Frequent yawning or blinking
  • Difficulty keeping your head upright or eyes open
  • Difficulty concentrating—i.e., you might miss your exit or have trouble remembering the last few miles you drove
  • Drifting in your lane or running over the rumble strip

How to Stay Awake When Driving at Night

Most people have felt drowsy behind the wheel at some point while driving after dark, and many have resorted to opening the windows or slapping or pinching themselves to try to shock themselves back awake.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Most methods of avoiding drowsiness when driving at night need some preparation beforehand, but there’s a few you can take if drowsiness catches you unaware.

  • Get plenty of sleep the night before. Plan to get at least seven to nine hours. Teenagers need eight to 10 hours a night. If you didn’t get a full night’s sleep, try to get in a 20-minute nap before leaving. Getting less than six hours of sleep dramatically increases your risk of falling asleep while driving.
  • Don’t drink alcohol beforehand. Drinking and driving is already a bad plan, but alcohol is also a sedative, and makes you sleepy after drinking. If you are planning to go out to a bar with friends and know you won’t be home until after dark, make alternate plans to get home.
  • If possible, get some exercise before getting behind the wheel. Even just a 20-minute workout (as simple as a walk) can increase your heart rate and blood flow to your brain, helping keep you awake and alert.
  • Drink something caffeinated. Bring an energy drink, coffee, or tea. You should also take into consideration how long you will be behind the wheel. If the caffeine wears off (usually within 5 hours) before your trip is over, you may experience a caffeine crash and end up even more tired than before.
  • Drink water. Dehydration is a frequent cause of low energy and “brain fog,” so staying hydrated could help keep you awake and alert on drives after dark.
  • Pack a healthy snack. Fast food and salty packaged snack food like most people take on road trips can make you feel drowsy after eating or cause a sugar crash. Instead, choose high energy foods like trail mix blends with lots of seeds, nuts, and dried fruits.
  • Chew gum. Studies show that chewing gum, especially mint gum, can actually stimulate the nervous system, keeping you alert and even preventing you from yawning.

What to Do If You Catch Yourself Falling Asleep While Driving

According to a CDC study, one in 25 adult drivers admitted to having fallen asleep while driving at least once in the past 30 days.

If you catch yourself dozing off, even for only a second, pull over as soon as possible!

At this point, the usual methods will NOT be enough to keep you awake or alert long enough to get to your destination safely. Even if you don’t fall asleep again, you are likely at a point where you can’t pay close enough attention to the road to recognize dangerous situations (like a car slowing down in front of you, a sharp turn ahead, or an animal running across the road) or to safely respond in time.

Instead of trying to keep yourself awake until you reach your destination, pull over at the next rest area or at a brightly lit truck stop and get in a 20-minute nap before continuing. Keep in mind it is illegal to park and sleep on a highway shoulder.

Injured by a Drowsy Driver? Call the Law Offices of Gary Bruce.

Drivers have a duty to be aware of their own level of drowsiness. When someone is too tired to drive safely, but does so anyway, they put others around them at risk. And if someone is hurt or killed in a crash as a result, the drowsy driver can be held liable.

Related Reading: Punitive Damages for Drowsy Driving

If you’ve been injured by someone who shouldn’t have been driving but took the risk anyway, and you end up paying for their mistake, call our firm. You deserve compensation for your medical bills, vehicle repairs, and pain and suffering.

Contact us today for a free case consultation.