Stop Sleeping At The Wheel With These Simple Tips

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Advice to avoid falling asleep in your car while driving.

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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.

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Repercussions of Falling Asleep at the Wheel and Driver Responsibility

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.

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Drowsy Driving: The Medical Conditions that Could Contribute

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).

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OSAS as a Major Risk Factor

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.

Medications

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.

Necessary Preparations Before a Long Trip and Tips to Stay Awake While Driving

If there are any risks of drowsiness on a long trip, take these precautions and use these tips:

  • Don't undertake the trip, if possible
  • Get proper sleep the night before
  • Plan the trip effectively to reduce the driving hours
  • Schedule plenty of rest stops at least every two hours of driving
  • Don't drive during times you would normally be drowsy, such as late at night
  • Take an alert travel companion along
  • Don't eat a big meal just before your trip
  • Avoid sedatives such as alcohol and medication the day and night before - delay taking necessary medications if you know they make you sleepy
  • Keep snacks and juices on hand to help hydrate and keep your blood sugar levels stable
  • Consider fun activities to keep you awake - good music, driving games, etc
  • Remember, if you just want to sleep, driving is off the table!

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.

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It Feels Like You are Falling Asleep While Driving, What Can You Do?

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:

  • Make a rest stop. Reduce your speed and find a safe place to stop - do not continue driving if you're sleepy. Rest for at least 15 minutes, take a bathroom break, get fresh air, and buy snacks at the gas station, if possible.
  • Take a nap. If possible, take a nap for at least half an hour somewhere safe, and you might find that you are refreshed and reinvigorated when you wake up, ready for the next stretch.
  • Let a second driver take over. Don't undertake long trips alone and let your driving companion drive for a few hours. Of course, the advice to stay awake applies to them too.
  • Have an energy drink. Take an energy drink before the trip if it works for you, as well as during rest stops. Coffee or other caffeinated beverages, and a snack, will help keep your blood sugar stable too and fight off drowsiness.
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How Smart Tech Keeps us 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.

FAQs

May I sleep in my car next to the road?

Besides the fact that it could be dangerous, it might be illegal, depending on where you live in the USA. Check your state's legislation.

Is it a criminal offense in the US to fall asleep behind the wheel?

Not necessarily, but you could be charged with reckless driving or worse if you were legally impaired to drive and caused an accident and/or a death because you fell asleep at the wheel.

Will opening a window keep me awake?

Once you are drowsy, few tricks will work. Fresh air may momentarily jolt you awake, but if you are truly fatigued, it is not a solution. Don't trust that misleading sense of security that you have handled the problem and the emergency is over. Rather just stop and rest.

How do I know whether the medication I’m taking can make me drowsy?

Medication that can make you drowsy must indicate it clearly on the package insert. Be sure to read this, or do your internet research on side effects; if all else fails, ask your doctor or medical health care provider.

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