Sleep deprivation is a borderline epidemic in Canada. In fact, we’re the third most sleep deprived country in the world. This impacts not only health, work, studies, and social interaction, it has a direct impact on your ability to operate a vehicle. Studies show that missing 2 to 3 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period quadruples your risk of a car accident. So there you have it. Don’t get behind the wheel if falling asleep is a risk. Easier said than done? Fair enough. Once again, Park Insurance is here to provide assistance that will keep you safe on the road.
5 Tips to Help You Stay Awake While Driving
1. Take a Nap, First
You’re more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel on a long commute or road trip. You know when these excursions are coming up, so plan ahead. Schedule a 20 to 30 minute nap before you embark. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready to hit the road. If taking a trip that lasts more than 5 hours, and/or you’re beginning to feel tired, pull over at a safe rest stop, and squeeze in a nap before continuing on your journey. If you have another driver with you, switch shifts while you catnap in the back of the vehicle. Those brief moments of shuteye will go a long way in keeping you awake on the highway.
2. Don’t Consume Sleep Inducing Food or Drink
Watch what you eat and drink before hitting the road. Sugary foods should be avoided because they cause reactive hypoglycemia, or a sugar crash, which can lead to a literal crash. You associate tryptophan (a sleep-inducing culprit) with turkey, but this α-amino acid is also prevalent in nuts, tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs. If you’re sleep deprived already, don’t compound the urge to sleep with a meal heavy in either of the above. While you know not to drive with alcohol in your system, even having a few drinks the night before an AM drive can impact your ability to stay awake. Avoid alcohol consumption 24-hours before a long drive, just to play it safe.
Another surprising item, is that coffee (or other caffeinated beverages) can have the reverse effect you’re looking for. That’s right, the supposed cure to falling asleep can make you more tired as you come down from the caffeine high. The reason for this? Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in your brain from receiving adenosine, which is a neurotransmitter that causes fatigue. If you have a long drive ahead, save the coffee (if you must) for later in the drive. Consuming it at the beginning can end up closing your eyes halfway through the trip.
3. Do Consume Energy Inducing Foods
The act of snacking can be beneficial when driving. A busy mouth is one that does not yawn. Of course, the food should not impact your ability to drive, so only consider snacks that are easy to pop in your mouth. Choose ones that boost energy levels, without the subsequent crash (as with sugar and caffeine). Chia seeds are a natural stimulant, and can be found in many organic energy supplements. Blueberries, apple slices, orange slices, and pumpkin seeds are sound options as well. Keep sugar-free gum close by too, to keeping you chewing when full. Also stay hydrated. Bottled water or sugar/caffeine-free electrolyte drinks can enhance energy levels.
4. Tune Into Circadian Rhythms
Your circadian rhythm is essentially your “body clock”. It is a cycle that tells your body when to wake, eat, and sleep. It is affected by environmental cues, like sunlight and temperature. A recent study showed that both circadian rhythms and driving duration had significant effects on fatigue levels. Fatigue level increased quicker in the evening group than the morning and noon groups. If you can, save the long drives for earlier in the day. Notable blocks of fatigue were also found between 2pm and 4pm and between 2am and 4am. While the 2am to 4am slot should logically be avoided, take note of your state in the late afternoon if you’ve been driving since the AM.
5. Be Mindful of Daylight Saving Time
The beginning of Daylight Saving Time in Canada has also been associated with an increase in road-related accidents. Take note of when Daylight Saving Time starts in 2017 (and all subsequent years) as Sunday, March 12 (2 AM) approaches, and begin adjusting your sleep pattern two-weeks out to compensate for the one-hour loss in sleep.