Be honest: You'd never get behind the wheel of a car drunk (right? RIGHT?), but you've probably driven when you were at least a tad sleepy. Late nights, early mornings, long road trips—sometimes you just can't avoid driving when you're less-than-completely refreshed.
According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, you're not the only one: Sixty percent of adult drivers say they have driven while feeling drowsy in the past year, and more than a third say they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel, with 4 percent of those resulting in car accidents or near-accidents.
In an effort to reduce sleep-related car accidents, The National Sleep Foundation has declared the week of November 12 to 18 Drowsy Driving Prevention Week. More than 30 percent of all Americans report that they get six hours or less of sleep per night. And lack of sleep has been linked to everything from weight gain to memory loss, so it's not surprising that the constantly sleep-deprived are more likely to be involved in accidents than those who get enough rest.
You may not be able to avoid driving while tired all the time, especially with the holidays coming up, but these tips will help lower your chances of dozing off in the middle of the road:
1. Take breaks. If you can, get enough rest before you hit the road, but if you can't and you find that you're struggling to keep your eyes open, having difficulty focusing, or missing traffic signs, take a break. Pulling over at a rest stop or gas station to get out and stretch for a few minutes about every 100 miles or two hours will help you remain alert.
2. Double up on caffeine. Experts often warn against drinking coffee or soda right before bedtime, but in this case, drink up! The equivalent of two cups of coffee can boost your alertness and focus for several hours. For best results, try drinking a cup of coffee and then taking a 20-minute nap before you leave.
3. Avoid alcohol and medications. Driving while drinking is a big no-no anyway, but certain OTC and prescription meds can impair your judgment in the same way, especially if taken on an empty stomach. If you can, avoid taking any medications until after you reach your destination.
4. Enlist the help of a friend. Long road trips are way more fun in groups anyway. Bonus: Not only will you have someone to talk to and sing along with, but you and your co-pilot can also divvy up the driving and the gas money. Win-win!
5. Stop driving. If you really don't trust yourself on the road and you can afford the time, pull over for the night at a hotel or motel and try to get a good night's sleep. If possible, request a room as far away from the road as possible to minimize the late-night noise and disruptions.