How do I stay awake whilst driving through the night?
June 29, 2005 7:50 AM   Subscribe

OK, I know how to stay awake all night if I'm at home or working, but what if I'm driving?

I've got a ten hour road trip coming up (West of Scotland to Devon), and I'm planning on doing most of it overnight to avoid the traffic.

I've got my iPod full of upbeat tracks (rock, dance, and singalong stuff), the heater will stay off, and I'm avoiding sugary snacks and taking a couple of litres of water. I'm planning on stopping three or four times (every three hours or so?) for a 30 min rest.

What else do you suggest?
posted by snowgoon to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total)
Don't do it. It's dangerous and you don't have the right to risk the lives of other people on the road. If you think you might fall asleep driving late at night, don't drive late at night.

Turning off the heater, and music will not help you (in fact I remember once that the kind of music you suggest can actually make it worse...anything with a steady prominant beat (no matter how up-tempo or loud) can lull you). From the web site of the New York DMV:


Opening the window, turning on the air conditioning, or playing loud music are not effective in keeping drivers alert for any extended period of time.

The tip they offer most relevant to you is this one:

Avoid driving during the body's "down time". According to AAA, this is generally in the mid-afternoon and between midnight and 6:00 a.m.
posted by duck at 7:58 AM on June 29, 2005

You might easily doze off on a highway due to the constant monotony of the drive. Its good if someone else in the car keeps awake on the side and keeps talking to you.
posted by webmeta at 8:05 AM on June 29, 2005

Pinch your earlobes if/when you get sleepy (don't laugh, it's true), and then get off the road to take a break.
posted by Rothko at 8:20 AM on June 29, 2005

What others have said, don't force yourself to stay awake. If you must drive, as soon as you feel sleepy pull over and take a nap for an hour. Don't try to fight it because you'll lose and end up killing someone.
posted by bondcliff at 8:24 AM on June 29, 2005

Duh, get your sleep before the trip. As everyone's noted, you can't extend your body with tricks for long. I've been able get a couple few hours by, every time I felt inalert, getting out of the car at a gas station, and going to the bathroom, getting a drink (not necessarily a heavy duty energy drink) and chatting with the clerk for a few. But once you're truly sleepy and groggy, it's time to hit a rest stop.
posted by boo_radley at 8:26 AM on June 29, 2005

Best answer: Loud & upbeat is not as helpful as singing along, in my experience, especially wordier songs that you know well.
posted by ulotrichous at 8:42 AM on June 29, 2005

First off, don't do it. If you must, you can wire yourself up with red bull. I drank four cans when I had to drive from 2am-8am once. My body was crawling but I stayed awake. Then again, I also had someone to talk to.
posted by dial-tone at 8:52 AM on June 29, 2005

I agree that you shouldn't do this... However, if you're like me and long-distance highway driving makes you sleepy no matter what time of day it is, I find that audiobooks are a great way to stay alert - same principle as whoever said they listen to This American Life on cd. Keeps me engaged in a story.
posted by amro at 9:02 AM on June 29, 2005

Try some of the trucker pills- usually caffeinated. I drove to and from Texas via Athens, GA last week and I got tired all 3 days of driving except the forth when I finally decided to try one of the pills a fellow driver was using and I never got tired that day driving. Might work for you.
posted by jmd82 at 9:05 AM on June 29, 2005


If you must, adjust your sleep schedule days before so you're waking up at the time you need to start.

But really, don't.
posted by Anonymous at 9:11 AM on June 29, 2005

I've never used it, but I know folks who keep some adderall around for this sort of occasion.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:16 AM on June 29, 2005

Best answer: Ten hours through the middle of the night isn't that bad. You might find this one of the best drives of your life. Summer nights, empty roads, a good sky. Adjust your sleep patterns so you near that window about a week out. Make sure you eat, but don't over eat. Also drink a lot of coffee if you're not acclimated to it. Remember, there's no magic pill.

If you find yourself noddy off and drifting pull off and take a three hour nap, you'll find it's extremely worth it. In the US you can pull off onto the entrance ramp of a interstate and sleep for a while in the shoulder. I generally avoid rest stops. Basically, find where the big trucks sleep and squeeze in.

Best of luck.
posted by sled at 9:45 AM on June 29, 2005


Please please don't drive while sleepy if at all possible.

Get a friend, a cat, an imaginary friend - anyone with a license, to tag along with you on the trip.

You'll thank yourself - and the other drivers on the road will thank you too.

After being awake for 24 hours or co constantly, you have the same hand eye coordination as if you were drunk..

What the above posters said seems to make sense too..sleep before the trip..if it's only 10 hours long..

With that said, in Turkey, the bus drivers for 24 hour cross-country trips will keep a lighted ciggarette in their fingers .. if they fall asleep, the ciggarette burns them.

(I'd suggest also loading up on the water as much as possible, like you said in the initial post..having to pee=great wakeup tool)

But please, don't do it!
posted by tozturk at 10:02 AM on June 29, 2005

I heartily recommend 15 minute powernaps whenever you start to feel drowsy. This gives you more energy but doesn't tell your body you're fully engaging in a sleep cycle like an hour-long nap would. Also, I find an extremely effective waker-upper is crunchy items that pack heat. If you lived in the northwest, I'd tell you to go buy a bag of Tim's Cascade style Jalapeno chips. (My drug of choice.) As you live in the UK, you'll have to choose a different weapon. But yeah, hot stuff is great because it causes pain, and then you get an endorphin rush which makes you all euphoric and keeps you awake. Jalapeno corn nuts will do in a pinch, if you have them.

Unlike many others, I don't find your trip idea to be untenable. But do take power naps when you need them, and do follow the other excellent suggestions such as getting some books on tape, etc.

On preview: Tozturk, burning cigarettes? that's hardcore!
posted by Happydaz at 10:22 AM on June 29, 2005

Start the road trip at about 6:00 to 7:00 pm. You can then end your road trip at around 4:00 am. If you sleep like me that's only an extra hour staying up.

Driving throughout the entire night will be very tough (although I don't doubt it's possible). I've driven home after literally having worked through the night until around 11:00 am and just the half hour through city streets left me feeling like the floor mat of an NYC taxi cab. Won't be doing that again any time soon.
posted by shepd at 10:55 AM on June 29, 2005

Best answer: I've driven 10-13 hours (alone) at a stretch several times. One time I drover 30-some hours straight, but I had friends in the car and mini-thins (pseudo-ephedrine). I don't suggest the pills -- they work, but they don't leave you feeling well.

Caffeine doesn't work for me, and in fact it backfires. I wouldn't recommend it. You have to drink more and more, and you have to hit the bathroom more, and it loses its effect. Caffeine burns the candle brighter, but what you want is the candle burning longer.

Take it easy the day before. Take a nap before you go.

Music can be okay but can fail you. Music's good for entertaining you 3-5 minutes at a time, but you can't be excited or thrilled for 10 hours. It's not like you're preparing for a spell in a doctor's waiting room. Join for a month and get the two free books. Pick something trashy you might not necessarily have read, like a Grisham novel or a mystery or something. Switch around what you listen to. For example decide that you're going to go without music until you reach town X. Sing along with stuff. Listen to albums all the way through without skipping -- I find this helps a lot, because a good album can carry your attention for a significant chunk of time.

Do not watch the clock or obsessively mark the miles. I used to cover up the clock in my car with a piece of paper when I'd do 12-13 hour drives. Make a conscious effort to avoid reading mileage (er, kilometrage) signs.

Stop as little as possible; it just prolongs the ordeal objectively and subjectively. But when you do stop, relax, stretch, decompress..

Daylight driving is easier because you have things to look at, and there's more of a feeling of freedom. Nighttime can be bad, and on winding and/or rainy roads the stress can wear you down.

A 10-hour drive is utterly doable without getting too tired. Good luck.
posted by fleacircus at 11:05 AM on June 29, 2005

Better living through chemistry: check out a little wonder-drug called Provigil. It's really something else. Salon story, WaPo story. The compound's name is modafinil, but it's marketed as Provigil and Alertec (the Canadian version). Alertec is far cheaper and it's chemically identical, so buy that instead. The prescription is easy to get, the FDA has approved its use for shift workers. Here's a thread where people talk about where to buy it cheapest, they mention an Indian kind that is also very cheap and made of the exact same compound.
posted by evariste at 11:18 AM on June 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

I just did a 500 mile (800 km or so) road trip, and I found it much easier than I was expecting.

The trick this time was starting at 6 AM. Sure, there was a little traffic, but I beat the rush, and the drive being in the normal part of the day meant that I didn't yawn or feel sleepy once.

Fully aware that I'm bucking the conventional wisdom stated above (which is to drive when you can't see anything and your body is desperately crying out for bed), I still recommend it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:26 AM on June 29, 2005

Fresh air, plenty of water, something to chew on and a reliable navigator to keep you company.

IF the road conditions are good and IF you are in an area where you can speed safely, do so. Small increases in speed will make a difference on a ten hour trip but watch out for speed traps.

Don't drink coffee, cola or anything else to wake you up.

Don't smoke. A cigarette dropped in one's lap burns at 400-580 degrees C (752-1112 degrees F). It will not hurt nearly as much as collision with an oncoming car or a telephone post but your body will be much more concerned with the cigarette in your lap than anything going on outside your car.

If you feel sleepy just pull over, turn the engine off and get some sleep. Better to be a few hours late to wherever you are going than be a few decades early to your own funeral.
posted by cup at 12:04 PM on June 29, 2005

I second books on CD over music for long night drives. A book that keeps me engaged and makes laugh keeps me far more awake that music. Also, with music I find it harder to loose track of time because I'm always aware of how many songs have passed. On my last road trip I had the complete David Sedaris on CD and entire hours slipped by unnoticed.

Have someone you can call on your cell when you start getting tired. Noise (book on CD or music) is good but nothing beats a friend who you can call and chatter with. A great conversation works wonders.

Hot or sour hard candy. I don't think it is even possible to fall asleep with two Atomic Fire Balls in your mouth. The same can be said for those foul sour hard candies at gas stations. Not great tasting but they'll keep you awake. Also with food I've found pistachios or peanuts are good munching food because taking them out of their shells requires a little effort.

Truck stops that have arcade games are wonderful things. A quick stop at a arcade game (or a pinball machine) will wake me up.

Never speed up to get there faster. Pushing your speed while tired is crazy dangerous. A 10 mph (or kph) difference in your speed doesn't matter that much when determining what time you get to your destination but it makes a huge difference in how alert you need to be to safely drive.

And, most importantly, know your limit and stop if you have to.
posted by smash at 12:36 PM on June 29, 2005

I found that a late burger meal and a can or two of iced coffee worked quite well to keep me awake when I had to catch a flight at 6am, and had to check-in and return the car beforehand... so I decided that it was pretty futile driving during the day and then getting a hotel room for just a few hours; and instead I drove all night - well, up to about 3am at least - and didn't sleep at all.

What probably worked fairly well for me was driving roads that were a bit more technical and required more concentration; as well as stopping to get out of the car and into the fresh air a few times.

I didn't listen to much music, because my rental Blazer had eaten the CD, and radio generally sucks :)

But then again, I'm not someone who falls asleep easily. If you do, then maybe you should re-evaluate your options.
posted by ckemp at 1:22 PM on June 29, 2005

I drove from Austin Texas to Chapel Hill North Carolina once (23 hours straight) and what worked for me was stopping every two hours, religiously, just to get out and move around. I would stop for gas one time, then at a rest stop to roll cigarettes the next time, but always get out and walk around for a minute. I stayed very aware of where I was, and listened to the radio instead of CDs so I had something to fool around with. Rolling the windows down seemed to work as well, but it was pretty nasty out so I tried not to do that too often. Good luck, and stop for a nap if you get tired!
posted by Who_Am_I at 2:01 PM on June 29, 2005

I drove from Minneapolis to San Francisco (29 hours or so) only stopping for gas, and the thing that helped the most was similar to Who Am I's suggestion, but I'll add something further: when you stop for gas, go to the bathroom and wash your face with cold water.

But realize that some people have lower tolerances for driving long distances!
posted by AmaAyeRrsOonN at 3:11 PM on June 29, 2005

I agree, Don't, but if you insist, naps are wonderful. I have chronic insomnia, and at work or in the car, if I get sleepy, I take short naps, so as to not disrupt my sleep/wake cycle. In your case, I'd think longer naps would be good. the cost in some traffic later wouldn't be that great. Even a 10 or 15 minute nap makes a huge difference for me, but you may have a different experience. But yes, if you are sleepy, STOP AND NAP.
posted by judybxxx at 3:31 PM on June 29, 2005

If you're looking for a cheaper alternative to Modafinil/Provigil, check out Adrafinil, mentionned in this earlier AskMe thread.
posted by exhilaration at 12:44 PM on June 30, 2005

Response by poster: As a follow up - drive took 8 hours, overnight, no problems, wide awake the whole time.

My suggested solution - adjust your sleeping patterns (by the previous night I was staying up until 3.30am), don't eat a big meal, drinking water and red bull, and put on some great sing a long music.

I arrived safe and well but hoarse from singing!!

(drive back was fine too - had wife in car for that, did it quicker as stopped less but still felt good).

Thanks everyone.
posted by snowgoon at 2:17 AM on July 27, 2005

« Older Forensic/Speech HS Pieces?   |   Where to get married in Northern California Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.