By Donna Lee Schillinger
When my little brother was 14, he got in a fight with the parents and ran away from home …in the family Ford Explorer …without a license …on the Interstate. In some way I cannot fathom, he fell asleep at the wheel while driving. The Explorer flipped and he ended up a broken collarbone, but otherwise unscathed. There must be some truth to the adage about God protecting the young and foolish, but what amazes me most about that story is how my brother could fall asleep. If the adrenaline rush of stealing a car, running away from home, driving – for the very first time – without a license, on the Interstate, no less, won’t keep you awake at the wheel, will anything?
It’s hard enough to stay awake during a long, boring drive during the day, but driving at night is exponentially more difficult. If they could only bottle that sensation and sell it to insomniacs! In a national poll conducted by Harvard Medical School in 2009, 54% of people admitted to driving while drowsy and 28% said they have actually fallen asleep. Another study estimated that up to 60% of accidents could have a sleepy driver at fault. We don’t want to contribute to these stats, but short of not driving at night, what can we do?
Let’s just quickly review things that help, but do not work. You should not count on these to keep you awake during a long drive:
The radio – Even blasting your very least favorite kind of music.
Cold air – Even windows down in the dead of winter.
Caffeine – Yes, even Red Bull. Your body can build a tolerance to caffeine.
Chewing gum – And you could wake up with it in your hair!
Bringing a pet – Seeing your animal sleeping will make you jealous!
Toothpicks – It is possible to fall to sleep even with your eyes open.
Now for what does work, that is, more often. Honestly, these next suggestions may not be foolproof either, but they are the most effective advice I can offer as an experienced nodder:
Deep conversation – a trip never goes so quickly and effortlessly as when you’re engaged in a meaningful conversation. Take a friend along who will commit to staying awake with you.
Eat and Drink – this obviously has some drawbacks, namely necessitating pit stops and lengthening the trip, and it cannot be done constantly on a long trip, but you can use it to spot jolt you back into alertness. Be sure not to oversugar yourself because that can cause drowsiness when the blood sugar drops again quickly about 20 minutes after eating.
Listen to an audiobook – this strategy has never failed me. The story engages my mind and the time and miles speed by unnoticed. Be sure of your interest in the subject though; a boring book could lull you to sleep.
Pull over and refresh – this strategy slows you down too, but better to lose some time and save your life than the other way around. Think it’s dangerous to pull over on the side of the road and try to nap for 15 or 20 minutes? Surely it is, but I doubt it can compete with 1,500 deaths and 40,000 injuries annually that driving while drowsy causes.
That’s it. It’s a short list and nothing very inventive, which is why your very best bet is proactive measures to avoid driving alone at night. Proverbs 3:21 says we should preserve sound judgment and discernment and they will be life for us. Plan your trips prudently: rest well before a trip, keep driving time in any one day to a reasonable amount, travel during daylight hours, and enlist a faithful friend to share the ride.