How to Stay Awake when Driving

Six Methods:Using food and drink to stay alertKeeping things coolerPlaying musicIn-car activitiesChange settingsMedical help

When driving long distances, especially at night, it is common to want to doze off, especially after a long, tiring day. This, of course, is a dangerous situation. Short of pulling off the road and taking a nap, what can be done to stay awake and keep driving?

Method 1
Using food and drink to stay alert

  1. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 1
    Keep your taste buds awake, drink an energy drink. This may raise your level of alertness for a reasonable amount of driving time. Suck or munch on an apple, orange, or even a lemon to keep taste buds awake. The more tangy the food item the better. (Pull over somewhere safe before eating anything that you can't just pop in your mouth, however. Eating while driving can also cause accidents).
  2. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 2
    Eat slowly. If you have a snack that comes in small pieces, eat them one at a time. Otherwise, take small bites of whatever you've got. Make it last. The more active you are, the easier it'll be to stay awake.
  3. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 3
    Drink beverages slowly. Coffee works especially well since it contains caffeine, which might keep you awake. (However, see next note.) Also, the frequent bathroom stops will help your mind stay alert for the next rest area!
  4. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 4
    Avoid sugar. Sugar causes several responses in your system which result in drowsiness and brain fog some time later. The faster the sugar was taken into your system, the stronger the effect.
  5. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 7
    Chew gum to keep your mouth busy. It stops the yawning, which stops the dozing off. Just make sure you keep chewing, even if your mouth gets tired of chewing. This is gum trick taken from truck drivers and it works really well!
  6. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 15
    Do something that engages more than one sense. For example, crunching on ice chips or eating sunflower seeds work because the crunching action keeps you engaged but not distracted from the road.
    • Ice works extremely well for some people. You don't necessarily have to crunch the ice. It works well for afternoon meetings, too.
      Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 16
    • Eat sunflower seeds either one at a time or a mouthful. The action of cracking the seed, manipulating the seed in your mouth, removing the seed, and discarding the shell will keep your mind active and awake. Remember to keep a plastic cup in the car to spit the shells into (or due to their size, you might be able to get away with spitting them out the window).
      Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 17

Method 2
Keeping things cooler

  1. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 6
    Set the car temperature lower. A little cooler than you'd ordinarily like. But not cold, as your body and brain need to stay warm enough to function well. Set the vents to blow on your face.
  2. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 8
    Wipe your face and neck with a wet cloth. This is very refreshing.
  3. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 11
    Open a window. A strong, cold wind in your face can help you stay alert, although make sure it doesn't dry out your eyes to the point of challenging how well you can see (this is especially common if you wear contact lenses).

Method 3
Playing music

  1. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 9
    Listen to music that you hate. The more annoying you find it, the better. Whatever you do, don't listen to music you like, especially if it's rhythmic and soothing. You'll go into your happy zone and start to nod off. If possible, tune to a station that you normally can't stand--the variety of a radio station will help. Put the volume up high.
  2. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 10
    Sing along with the radio or have a conversation with someone in the car. Avoid talking on a cell phone as it's both dangerous and illegal (in many places in the world). Singing and talking are both active things you can do that won't interfere with your driving.

Method 4
In-car activities

  1. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 12
    Periodically shake your head from side to side and take a deep breath. Slap your own face if you have to.
  2. 2
    Keep one hand up in the air.
  3. 3
    Hold yourself up out of the seat.
  4. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Intro
    Add and subtract numbers out loud. This can keep your mind busy enough to stay alert until you reach your destination.
  5. 5
    Move to the music, the more energetic, the better.
  6. 6
    Grasp the steering wheel in your clenched fists and apply extreme muscular force in any or all directions isometrically. This will increase your adrenaline and blood pressure.
  7. 7
    Worst case scenario, scream, either though inner dialog or out loud. Go absolutely nuts. This will wake you up temporarily under any degree of fatigue but in that you are so tired, it's time to get some sleep immediately.

Method 5
Change settings

  1. 1
    Don't use cruise control.
  2. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 5
    At night, turn the interior light on. Darkness causes your body to produce melatonin, the hormone that puts you to sleep, much faster than tiredness. Plan ahead and put the light on before you get tired, if at all possible, because once you have melatonin in your system it is difficult to return to a wakeful state without a 15 minute nap.
  3. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 14
    Place the seat in a position you are not used to. Be sure not to place your seat into such a position that the airbag will injure you if deployed. But make sure you keep a good visibility of the road and the mirrors. When you get used to it, change the position again!

Method 6
Medical help

  1. Image titled Stay Awake when Driving Step 13
    Consider prescription medication if sleepiness while driving is an unavoidable hazard, such as if you have shift work sleep disorder (SWSD).


  • Place a few strands of hair in the sunroof, that way if you do start to nod off you will be awoken by a sharp pulling of your hair.
  • If all else fails, pull the car over in a safe area, such as a rest stop or gas station, and walk around. Physical activity will get the blood circulating.
  • When alternating drivers, make sure the next person is rested enough to start driving!
  • Play some fast, energetic music. Avoid relaxing music as it may make you even more drowsy.
  • If driving alone - pull over and take a short nap. Make sure at nighttime, you are parked near a spot with light and people, to keep crooks away from you.
  • Take a friend on the passenger seat so they could keep you company and talk to so you won't doze off.
  • If you're planning a long drive, make sure you get plenty of sleep prior to the trip to ensure your senses are at optimal performance.
  • If driving with other people, alternate drivers and sleep while you're not driving.
  • Eat something hot and spicy, such as spicy pepperoni.
  • Don't use cruise control if you have it. You should try to keep your body as busy as possible.
  • Drive with one hand on top of your head if you are comfortable driving with one hand.
  • Sometimes you can't awake when driving, so do this when your body is completely tired.
    • Pull over and set your mobile phone alarm to 15 minutes, turn off lights, radio and close your eyes. It's not even necessary to fall asleep even though better.
    • The important thing is never to rest for more than 15 minutes, because you could fall in deep sleep and then you'd need a full sleep cycle to be rested.
    • After these 15 minutes you will be refreshed enough for 2 more hours of driving and then you can do it again.


  • Avoid taking a nap in the driver's seat; use the passenger seats instead. The greater the distinction between the sleeping area and the driver's seat, the less likely you are to condition your body to fall asleep while driving. The more unnatural it feels to sleep in the driver's seat, the safer you are.
  • It is best to not drive while sleepy. Weariness impairs your senses and can lead to deadly accidents.
  • In some places, you can be arrested for DUI for sleep deprivation.
  • On long trips, where the chances of falling asleep are high, it may be best to stop driving for the day. A $60 hotel room at a roadside motel isn't cheap, but it's better than risking an accident.
  • Many prescription and over-the-counter medications list drowsiness as a common side effect. Do not drive while taking these medications as you could doze off and lose control of the car.
  • Avoid using the heater for the seats if you have that option. This will soothe your bums and easiest way to trigger sleep.
  • If possible, pull off somewhere safe and take a nap. Driving while drowsy can be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated!
  • Beware of "microsleeps"—very short (up to 30 seconds) periods of sleep that often occur due to sleep deprivation.[1]

Article Info

Categories: Defensive Driving Skills & Safety | Driving Basics