How to Stay Alert While Driving

 

At one point or another, we will likely need to drive for a prolonged period of time or late at night. Whether returning from a holiday, or travelling overnight for an important interview, no matter the reason, it’s a situation that often presents itself. As such, staying alert is highly important and can be quite difficult with fatigue setting in. Even when speeding along in the new Ford Mustang, being energised during your travels is essential, so we’ve put together a selection of tips on how to stay alert while driving.

Coffee nap

While regular naps can be very useful, as we will touch on shortly, combining the delights of coffee and a nap can be extremely beneficial according to Jeff Mann of Sleep Junkies – a blog that specialises in the art of sleeping. Jeff says: “One of the most effective ways to combat driver fatigue is a technique known as the ‘coffee nap’.

“Whilst it might seem that caffeine and sleep are two opposing forces, the coffee nap has been studied by sleep researchers and found to be more effective at reducing sleepiness than either a nap, or a dose of caffeine on its own.

“So how do coffee naps work? Well, the idea is that when you’re feeling the effects of daytime sleepiness, grab yourself a cup of Joe, (recommended dose is 200mg caffeine), then immediately after consumption, get your head down for a short 15 minute nap.

“Because caffeine takes around 15-20 minutes to enter your bloodstream, it won’t affect falling asleep, however, when you awake, you get a double-whammy energy boost of the caffeine hit and the revitalising effect of the power nap.

“If you’re sceptical about the powers of the coffee nap, just give it a try. You never know, it might one day save your life.”

Pull over and take a power nap

tired driver in car

Ian McKay, Managing Director of How’s My Driving – a road safety risk scheme that works to raise the profile of road safety – was able to offer us a number of tips for how to stay alert and safe on the road:

“The number one thing to remember is that no deadline is worth killing for; don’t try and fight fatigue, pull over and take a power nap.”

As Ian points out, it is very important, crucial really, that as soon as you start to feel tired out on the road – for example when visiting family on the other side of the country, perhaps in your new Ford Focus RS – to pull over and rest your eyes. Many people find that a short 10-20 minute nap to be very beneficial for restoring energy. Just remember, it’s natural to feel groggy upon waking up, so just wait a little while and you will soon feel your energy returning and able to continue your drive.

Sleep well the night before

Ian at How’s My Driving also stresses the benefits of a “good solid sleep” before a long drive. This might sound like an obvious tip but it is tremendously important for any successful road trip. If you are travelling for many hours first thing in the morning, or if you need to get up at 3am to start your drive, make sure to get as much sleep as possible beforehand, allowing you to be fully rested and on top of your game. A good 7-9 hours is the sweet spot to aim for.

Focus on the task

man yawning in car

Narrating one’s actions and what you see and do while driving can be tremendously helpful in combatting the effects of fatigue according to Mr. McKay.

“If you find your mind wondering,” says Ian, “focus on producing a running commentary of what you see ahead of you, where does that bend lead? What was the last road sign you saw? Can you see roof tops in the distance, and does that mean there’s a change in speed limit approaching? Focus on the task in hand and arrive safely at your destination.”

Eat energy-inducing foods

Of course, eating is also important, and this starts before your trip even begins. Sue Slaght of Travel Tales of Life – a travel blog full of tips and advice for travelling across the world – makes this her top tip for staying alert while driving.

“Pull up a chair to the table. One of our tried and true driving tips begins prior to turning the key in the ignition. Eating a healthy meal before you step foot in your car will help to keep your eyes wide open. What no junk food? Making nutritional choices that include protein and complex carbohydrates serve a long distance driver well.

“Salt from potato chips and sugar from candy may appeal to your traveling taste buds, however, a well-balanced meal prior to beginning your drive will provide the lasting stamina you need to stay awake for the long haul.”

Sue also recommends bringing along a couple of snacks for the journey:

“Pack a bag of fresh vegetables to snack on as the miles roll by. Carrots, celery, snap peas, radishes, cherry tomatoes are choices that won’t get mushy in the mix. Crunch your healthy way down the highway.

“Feeling full and can’t imagine chowing down on one more nibble? Nothing like some jaw smacking, bubble blowing chewing gum to keep your eyeballs at attention. Try various brands and flavours for variety to keep your taste buds guessing.”

Speaking of gum, and for something quite unique, try Run Gum – an energy chewing gum packed with taurine, caffeine, and vitamins.

Listen to an audio book

While driving along the motorway for long periods, particularly when it’s quiet, your mind can start to relax at the monotony of it all, so it’s important to keep your mind active and stimulated while still paying attention on the road.

So why not take the recommendation of Janice Waugh of Solo Traveler --  a wonderful resource of solo travel tips, stories and destinations – and try listening to a “great playlist or gripping audiobook” while behind the wheel.

Audiobooks can be a fantastic solution and it doesn’t really matter what, just an interesting story to keep you entertained and thinking during your journey. The Works have a number of cheap options available.

Keep the vehicle cool

woman driving

We’ve all likely noticed that we feel sleepier in warmer climates and a hot car can equally contribute to that feeling of drowsiness. So make sure to combat those affects by keeping your vehicle cool. Take advantage of your car’s air conditioning system (and visit your local Ford dealership if it’s not working correctly) and help to create an environment where you feel as awake and focused as possible.

Go for a walk before driving

“Exercise before a long drive? Won’t this make me more tired?” Well, actually no. If you were to enjoy a 5-10 minute walk before getting behind the wheel, the increased physical activity will actually help increase your energy. There’s no need to go crazy but just getting the old juices flowing will have some significant benefits. At the very least, it will wake you up sufficiently for the drive ahead.

Utilise the buddy system

When driving across country for hours and hours on end, try and take advantage of the buddy system if possible. If you are travelling with a friend, partner, or family member, agree to swap every two hours or so, giving one person the chance to rest while the other focuses on driving. This will allow you to stay fresh and alert to whatever might come your way. If that extra person is there and qualified, it would be foolish not to take advantage. And when travelling in a vehicle that is as exciting as the new Ford Mustang, it would be a shame to not share the experience, creating great memories in the process.

Stay hydrated

Another thing drivers can do to stay energised, and just healthier in general, is to drink plenty of fluids. Keeping hydrated is of course always important and it does impact energy levels, so having plenty of water on hand is a smart move. Drinking coffee can also help but it is a short term solution only. Be smart, don’t drink too much of it, and balance any caffeine consumption with sufficient water.