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Avoiding drowsy driving

Margaret Jack  By Margaret Jack   |   Posted in Sleep Research   |   Last updated: Monday 29th October 2012

Drowsy driving, which covers any type of driving carried out while feeling tired, is an extremely dangerous and unsettlingly common practice. Driving while excessively tired has been proven to reduce reaction times to those of someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which highlights exactly how hazardous it can be.

While no-one intentionally sets out to pose a danger to others by getting behind the wheel when they’re excessively tired, the nature of the body and mind combined with the often monotonous and repetitive activity of driving can mean that drowsy driving can happen without much warning.

However, simply by being aware of the times of day that drowsy driving can strike is the first step to making sure you avoid it happening to you. Here are the most common drowsy driving scenarios, along with some tips to keep tiredness at bay when you’re on the road:

Early Morning Driving

Setting out for a drive in the early morning can be particularly dangerous if you haven’t had a sufficiently rejuvenating sleep, or if you begin your drive shortly after waking up. Although it is second-nature to most of us, driving is a demanding activity both physically and mentally – so be sure that you’re wide awake and energised before setting off.

TIP: Take time in the morning to eat a good breakfast and fully wake up. Always make sure that there’s at least an hour between getting out of bed and setting off.

Late Evening or Night Driving

Starting a car journey late in the evening or at night is a potential drowsy driving risk if you’ve had a tiring day or are particularly low on energy. When it gets dark your body instinctively begins to relax in preparation for sleep, so if you’re out and about during this time you’re effectively going against your natural circadian rhythm.

TIP: Make sure you’ve prepared for the drive by resting and building up energy. Staying hydrated also helps maintain alertness.

Long Journeys

Car journeys that take more than an hour are notorious drowsy driving risks. The comfortable, cocoon-like environment of a car can create a relaxed state of mind that isn’t ideal for maintaining alertness and concentration. Add in the monotonous repetition of the motorway and long journeys can have an almost sedative effect.

TIP: Schedule frequent rest stops. Be sure to get out of the car, stretch your legs and get some fresh air – this can be just as rejuvenating to the mind and body as a caffeine-hit, and it’s far healthier too.

Ultimately, no matter what time of day your journey is, the best way to avoid drowsy driving is by making sure that you have a good sleep routine, which will in turn give your mind and body the energy it needs to concentrate fully on the task in hand. Add in some basic journey planning and you’ll be able to fend off drowsy driving and stay safe.


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