Drowsy driving may seem like a natural part of life for many of us who commute to work or drive for a living. A little drowsiness can be addressed with some driving strategies.

However, it’s important to know that driving while sleepy can be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

Keep reading to learn what you can do to fight off sleepiness and stay alert while driving, the signs for when you need to pull over immediately, and other transportation options to consider if you frequently find yourself too tired to drive.

Sometimes, you just need a quick power nap to be able to keep going.

Try driving with a buddy, especially if you have a long commute or are going on a road trip, so that you can switch off driving responsibilities when one of you gets drowsy.

This is a common strategy used by long-haul drivers, especially people who drive tractor trailers across the country for as much as 12 to 15 hours in a single day.

And this is a good strategy to consider if you live near anyone you work with or have any friends or family members who are also driving where you need to go.

Nothing can substitute for a good rest — even if it’s just for a few hours (or a few minutes!).

First and foremost, try to get a healthy amount of sleep so that you’re well rested for your drive and throughout the whole day.

But if that’s not possible, take a nap for at least 15 to 30 minutes before you have to drive. According to a 2012 study, even a short nap can get you the slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep you need to feel refreshed and alert.

The National Sleep Association suggests a pre-drive nap can do a lot of good for your mental state during a drive.

Some of your favorite music can help you focus and stay alert.

Play some songs you know the words to so you can sing along and stimulate your brain. Or put on something energetic to get you pumped and wake yourself up.

Whether it’s classical or country, funk or folk, mákina, or metal, music has been linked to mental alertness, which can help you stay focused on the road.

Caffeine is the world’s most popular (and legal) stimulant. It can get you through a lot of other parts of your day that make you drowsy, so why not try it while you drive?

A 2012 study found that even just one cup of coffee can help reduce the effects of sleep deprivation, which can make you drowsy when you drive.

A 2013 study found that caffeine can even lower your risk of crashing on long drives.

Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.

A 2014 study found that drowsy driving caused similar impairments to driving under the influence of alcohol. It reduced several key bodily functions necessary for safe driving, including:

  • blood pressure
  • heart rate
  • accuracy of eyesight
  • ability for eyes to adjust to darkness
  • reaction time to sounds
  • reaction time to lights
  • depth perception
  • ability to assess speed

If you often find yourself drowsy while driving, you should consider talking with your doctor. It could be related to a medical condition, such as sleep apnea.

Sometimes, these strategies don’t work because your mind and body are simply too tired to operate a vehicle.

Here are some telltale signs that you should stop driving immediately:

  • You yawn uncontrollably and frequently.
  • You don’t remember driving for a few miles.
  • Your mind is constantly wandering and not focusing on what’s happening around you.
  • Your eyelids feel heavier than usual.
  • You feel your head start to tilt or fall to one side.
  • You suddenly realize that you’ve drifted into another lane or over a rumble strip.
  • A driver in another lane honks at you for driving erratically.

Protect yourself and others

If you notice one or more of these things while you’re on the road, here’s what you can do to protect yourself and others:

  1. Pull over as soon as you can.
  2. Find a quiet area where you can safely park and not be disturbed by noise or other people.
  3. Take the key out of the ignition and lock your doors.
  4. Find a comfortable spot in your car to fall asleep.
  5. Let yourself sleep for at least 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re not in a hurry, sleep until you wake up naturally.
  6. Wake up and get on with your day or night.
Healthline

If you frequently find yourself getting drowsy behind the wheel, you may want to consider other ways to get where you need to go.

Here are some other transportation options worth considering:

  • Share a ride with a friend, co-worker, classmate, or someone else who’s driving where you need to go.
  • Walk to where you’re going, if it’s close enough and safe enough to do so.
  • Ride a bicycle. It’s more engaging for your entire body and great exercise. Be sure to wear a helmet and find a bike-friendly route.
  • Use scooter or bikeshare programs if your city offers them.
  • Take a bus. It can be slower, but you can rest, close your eyes, and know that you’re clearing the roads of excess cars and exhaust.
  • Ride on the subway, light rail, or trolley, especially if you live in a dense urban area with extensive train networks like New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles.
  • Use a rideshare app like Lyft. These services can be somewhat pricey, but they’re good for short distances and may save you money on the price of a car, gas, and car maintenance.
  • Call a taxi if there are taxi companies in your area.
  • Join a carpool or vanpool. Ask your employer or school if they offer or subsidize shared driving programs.
  • Work remotely, if your employer allows it, so that you don’t have to drive to work every day.

Drowsy driving isn’t safe. It can be even more dangerous than drunk driving.

Try some of these strategies to keep yourself awake when you drive. Also, don’t hesitate to look into alternate transportation options if you frequently find yourself getting drowsy when you drive.