Please help me stay awake on my commute driving home!
July 17, 2007 5:19 PM   Subscribe

Please help me stay awake on my 45 mile commute home. I keep getting sleepy in the car.

Basically, I can get TO work fine. One, because the traffic is light and, I feel, its the morning and I got to be on time. But, coming home, the traffic can be TERRIBLE. It can take almost 1.75-2.00 hours to get home. The commute is half traffic lights and half freeway. And, the sleep comes at the oddest, strangest moments and I keep trying to fight it. Music, opening the windows, yelling, nothing at all really helps. I know, I know, I need to pull over and rest but, I was wanting to know if anyone had any other tricks. As for now, moving closer to work is not an option. :)

posted by skepticallypleased to Grab Bag (46 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I never used one, but I hear nap alarms are helpful ?
posted by elpapacito at 5:22 PM on July 17, 2007

Obvious, but... have you tried caffeine?
posted by rxrfrx at 5:25 PM on July 17, 2007

One thing that used to work for me on my demonic auto commute was to stop halfway for a 5-10 minute snack. No drive thru, either -- getting out of the car made a BIG difference. Buy caffeine if you like, but just straight up food worked for me.

If you haven't tried podcasts, audiobooks or comedy albums yet, you might want to give them a whirl -- there are plenty of AxMe threads with suggestions along those lines.
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:27 PM on July 17, 2007

Had your exhaust system checked lately? A leaky exhaust system could be venting CO and CO2 into your vehicle, causing drowsiness.
posted by paulsc at 5:31 PM on July 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I sometimes take DVDs, rip them, and then just put the audio into MP3s my car stereo can play. I mixed up the film and the radio play of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas along with some noted bits of music - it makes a most excellent companion for a roadtrip.

You might try the same with a favorite TV show.
posted by adipocere at 5:31 PM on July 17, 2007

I think paulsc is on to something.
posted by brain cloud at 5:48 PM on July 17, 2007

For those times on the road where I'm feeling sleepy, I stop for a bag of sunflower seeds. Works wonders for me. A cheek full of seeds and the challenge of getting those things cracked open will keep me wide awake at 2:00am on any highway.
posted by noseeum at 5:48 PM on July 17, 2007

I get this. I pull off the road and take a five minute nap.
posted by docpops at 5:51 PM on July 17, 2007

Based on the differences you mention between your morning and evening commutes, I have my doubts about paulsc's conclusion. Still, it's a worthy thing to have checked out.
posted by thejoshu at 5:51 PM on July 17, 2007

I've got the commute from Hell, so here's everything I can think of:

Keep a bottle of very cold water with you. Whenever you get particularly sleepy, take a long drink.
The loud music is good, but singing loudly along with the music is better (and better than yelling). It requires more thought and or work. Try to harmonize.
I sometimes slap my face and tug on my beard.
Tensing all of my muscles for ten seconds or so sometimes helps.
Rock rapidly forward and back.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:54 PM on July 17, 2007

The nap works, in the more severe cases.

Most of the time I generally chew ice, and that works well for me. A fountain soda with a lot of ice... after you drink off most of the soda, pop the top and start chomping.

It really depends on if you enjoy eating ice and / or if you have problems with your teeth or gums.
posted by Industrial PhD at 5:55 PM on July 17, 2007

Great suggestion, paulsc!

Low blood sugar at that time of day may well be an issue. Have a healthy snack composed of complex carbohydrates and protein (eg. trail mix, hempseed bars, hummus and crackers) before you head out.

If you've been sitting all day, you might want to do some deep breathing and jumping jacks (granted, looks ridiculous in business attire, next to cubicle) to drive some oxygen to the brain. If possible, you might want to park farther from your usual spot in order to get something of a walk in before you start your drive.

If feasible, how about a carpool arrangement? You get conversation, cost savings, and you're not driving all the time- you might even save time if your route has HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes.
posted by solongxenon at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2007

Red Bull. I can never think of sleep after drinking it.
posted by JayRwv at 6:04 PM on July 17, 2007

Seconding the sunflower seeds.
posted by eleyna at 6:07 PM on July 17, 2007

Same thing used to happen to me, skepticallypleased. When I started going to the gym regularly, the problem went away.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:10 PM on July 17, 2007

Books on tape work for me on long drives.
posted by fshgrl at 6:20 PM on July 17, 2007

I've tried everything on this list, and nothing beats the quick nap (for me more like 15 min). I pack a cooler in the a.m. so that at the end of the day I've got that red bull, cold cold water, and plenty of ice right at hand. On bad days (today, in fact) some of that cold water goes right down the front of the shirt for a quick adrenaline shot.

Second to the nap is a long phone call to keep you mentally engaged. In fact, if you're in the USA EST, why help us both out and call me? A long rambling conversation makes the miles fly by. Email in the profile.

Finally, please try all these. Driving sleepy is as dangerous as driving drunk.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:43 PM on July 17, 2007

I have a long drive as well. I know talking on the phone is not a good idea but if you can do it hands free it is better than falling asleep. It worked for me.

I have tried just about everything listed here but the carpool is the only thing in 6 years that really works. I have to get up 20 minutes earlier than I used to and I occasionally have to drive alone because we have differing schedules but it is worth it.
posted by nimsey lou at 6:51 PM on July 17, 2007

I once heard or read that truck drivers in another country (sorry, don't remember where) used the aroma of mint to keep them alert, and it worked as well as caffeine. (I think they even had it hooked up to blow out of their vents, but I could be making that part up.) So, maybe give Altoids, Listerine strips, or another intensely minty thing a try.
posted by daisyace at 6:53 PM on July 17, 2007

The nuclear option in this situation is to keep a cigarette in your glove compartment and smoke it (or part of it) when all else fails. I did this occasionally on my long drive to and from school; it works well if you're not a regular smoker.
posted by viewofdelft at 6:59 PM on July 17, 2007

I used to have to make regular 6 to 10 hour drives in th emiddle of the night for work. Staying away was sometimes very difficult. What worked for me was a Red Bull of two and a pack of gum. Also, singing and biting the inside of my cheek now and again (but don't get too carried away with the last one. Ouch).

I like the stop-and-check-out-a-store suggestion, too.
posted by Pecinpah at 7:06 PM on July 17, 2007

I used to have a commute similar to yours and also battled fatigue at the wheel many times. Some things that worked for me:

- Quick power nap before I started the drive home
- Caffeine (but only on worse days - I build up a tolerance to it quickly)
- Listening to books on tape (fluffy bestsellers mostly, nothing that required concentration) or really energizing music (top 40 pop or jock jam type stuff - embarrassing, but it worked).

Also, try paying attention to what you're having for lunch: I noticed that when I ate a lot of refined carbs and "heavy" foods for lunch I felt more tired; when I got a lot of lean protein and veggies for lunch I was less likely to fall asleep. That might just be one of my quirks, but it might be worth thinking about.
posted by AV at 7:12 PM on July 17, 2007

Forcing yourself to cough can buy you a few minutes, long enough to pull over safely and find a place to nap.
posted by Manjusri at 7:19 PM on July 17, 2007

Just asking for the sake of asking, but there are no alternatives to driving right? After all you can sleep on a commuter rail and no one will die as a result.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:42 PM on July 17, 2007

Are you getting enough sleep at night?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:43 PM on July 17, 2007

Several things.

Aside from the: Short nap and leaving later (if you go home just to surf the internet...why not stay at work an hour and then leave...shortening your commute?)

First, water, not caffeine (and not sugary caffeine. You'll be worse off after the sugar crash).
You can't fall asleep while drinking or eating (and water is of zero real impact beyond pissing).
Secret. Peppermint. Natural stimulant. Know those Listerine packs. They're great for this.

Feeling really tired? Stop and get out of the car. Walk around for a couple of minutes. Jog for a moment or three. Get your body to raise it's heart rate.
posted by filmgeek at 7:52 PM on July 17, 2007

Oh yeah, avoid carbs and sugar @ lunch.
posted by filmgeek at 7:53 PM on July 17, 2007

I used to have this problem when I traveled for work. Normally we are talking 6hr+ drives, but sometimes I would start nodding off within 1/2hr if it was truly boring.

I tried coffee, pop, sugary foods, windows rolled down, loud music, A/C cranked, everything.

What finally worked for me was chewing gum. I have no idea why, but if I was chewing gum, I would not get drowsy.

Try it, maybe it will work for you too.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:55 PM on July 17, 2007

One day, after staying at work late into the night. I started nodding on the way home -- you know, when your head starts to drift forward and you catch yourself and snap it back up. It didn't even occur to me that I might not be able to keep catching myself and snapping my head up. Suddenly the car was on the concrete median in the middle of the road and there was a lamp post directly in front of me. It was like there was a bad splice in the film I was watching and it just suddenly cut from being entirely in the lane to being entirely on the median. And this median had a ridiculously high curb. If I had tried to mount the median on purpose I almost certainly would have failed. I had no time to check beside me, I just made an instant judgement call that sideswiping someone would be better than hitting the post head on and I yanked the wheel to get myself back on the road.

Then I pulled over and shook for a while. At first I was wondering what I should do to get home from here, but then I realized that I was now very much wide awake and not in any danger of falling asleep. I don't recommend this approach however.

Regardless of anything else, if you are fighting sleep you must stop the car.
posted by winston at 8:57 PM on July 17, 2007

If you've got an mp3 player, put it to use. Books on tape. Podcasts. Music can make you even sleepier, even if it's loud and fast. Listening to a person talk about a subject you like will hold your attention.

There's certainly no shortage of energy drinks these days...I'm partial to RockStar myself.
posted by zardoz at 9:09 PM on July 17, 2007

Sunflower seeds, popcorn, whatever, as mentioned. When is the last time you fell asleep while eating? Maybe as a toddler.

Also: If it can take 2 hours to go 45 miles, what if you find a bookstore/coffeeshop near work and go there for an hour after work. (As jamaro suggested above.) The traffic may clear enough that you may get home at the same time, but the reading/sampling music/coffeebreak may wake you up, and since you are driving for less time, less chance of drowsiness.

(Other after-work alternatives, before driving home: Go for a walk. Jog. Keep a bike at work and go for a ride. Go to that movie you want to see near work instead of in the evening.)
posted by The Deej at 10:17 PM on July 17, 2007

Can you shift your work hours? My partner gets up early so she beats the rush in, then leaves a bit early to beat the rush home.

Also, caffeine + audio books!
posted by tomble at 11:34 PM on July 17, 2007

Check your blood sugar. Meters are cheap.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:55 AM on July 18, 2007

sunflower seeds work for me
posted by prjo at 5:19 AM on July 18, 2007

Music... even the LOUDEST, most annoying will never work. But there's something about listening to a speaking voice that engages the brain to stay more alert. Music, even loud or fast never works. So, if you find yourself dosing off, find a talk radio station - any really- even the most banal subject will keep you more alert. Get furious listening to Rush Limbaugh, and you wont have a problem.
posted by yeti at 5:22 AM on July 18, 2007

Nthing the short nap.

I have had some longish (8-12) drives recently that I had to do alone. All the snacks, coffee, music and other stimuli only went so far; despite a good night's rest, I was still nodding off after a few hours. The only thing that worked was a short nap in a rest area; 5-10 mins of that and I was good for the next 3-4 hours. Set an alarm though, you don't want to have a long snooze as that will leave you drowsy and sluggish.

For your commute, you may want to take the powernap before you leave work.

Good luck.
posted by rasputin98 at 5:47 AM on July 18, 2007

Chew or dip. Just a small wad in the lip.
posted by inigo2 at 6:18 AM on July 18, 2007

Nthing sunflower seeds, but its really anything that you are eating. You're body wont allow you to get drowsy while eating, unless you are absolutely exhausted. Snack on anything, it works.

Sunflower seeds are great because (presumably) you are constantly cracking and spitting out the shells, thus reinforcing your body's need to stay awake. And other than the salt, you're not filling up your gut with much of anything, so you not fighting that soporific full-belly thing as well as a boring drive.
posted by elendil71 at 8:22 AM on July 18, 2007

This is all really good advice. I think a mixture of things is good. I do the following:

- rip tv shows and play them as MP3s. Particularly 30 Rock and Arrested Development becuase they are so punchline-oriented that I have a lot to pay attention to.
- Have a cold drink at all times
- Have something to snack on. Depending on when you commute, like say at the end of the day, being hungry can really contribute to feeling tired
- I pull over and either sleep for 5-10 minutes or take a quick walk around for a little while
- Have my handsfree thingy ready at all times and call someone to have a nice long chat.
posted by sneakin at 8:41 AM on July 18, 2007

Have my handsfree thingy ready at all times and call someone to have a nice long chat.

Several studies have suggested that talking on a cell phone while driving using a hands-free device is not much, if at all, safer than talking on a handset.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2007

Several studies have suggested that talking on a cell phone while driving using a hands-free device is not much, if at all, safer than talking on a handset.

Very true. But other studies have shown it's much safer than driving while asleep.
posted by The Deej at 10:20 AM on July 18, 2007

One other thing I'm going to try for wakefulness purposes is something I've been wanting to do anyway -- start an audio journal, using a small digital voice recorder to speak into while driving. When feeling tired, I'll just turn it on and start recounting the details of the day, etc. Hopefully the mental engagement will help.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:26 PM on July 18, 2007

I agree with the sunflower seeds and mint suggestions.

I'm nearly certain that sunflower seeds have saved my life on several occasions, including one solo drive across country from LA to DC without stopping (except for gas). For me wind/noise/face-slapping together don't work as well as sunflower seeds.

Ideally you can just take a nap, but if you can't/won't for some reason, these are invaluable.
posted by Redruin at 11:07 PM on July 18, 2007

Check out the power nap option at Pzizz via Lifehacker

There's also a 25% discount via the Lifehacker link.
posted by TauLepton at 6:15 PM on July 20, 2007

I have had this problem off and on pretty much as long as I've been driving (17 years). Certainly a lack of regular/restful sleep can could be a culprit, but it happens to me whether I'm...healthy/sick, exhausted/well-rested, hungry/ get the idea.

And I've tried several dozen ways to combat it - music, singing, yelling, caffeine, pinching myself - most of which helped little or not at all. Pulling off and power naps can be very helpful if you commute through an area where it's safe to pull over, but it's usually not an option for me.

I will nth everyone who said to eat or chew something. That's the only thing that consistently works for me; I find hard candies, especially suckers, sours, and strong mints, work best.

Finally, you may want to consider seeing a doctor if your drowsiness pattern is similar to mine. True narcolepsy isn't too common, but sleep apnea is. Studies also indicate that this problem can be related to motion sickness (which I have in spades when I'm not in the front seat), vertigo, and other inner-ear disorders.

Best of luck with finding what works for you.
posted by plumtexan at 10:00 PM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the respones. Alas, work has kept me busy enough not to be able to weigh in on the responses. I will get the exhaust checked. I will start to download political podcasts. And, yes, I think getting a gym or bookstore near work and going there is a great plan. The timeshift is probably the smartest thing. But, I'm not sure who can stay at work longer than they half to do so.

Great answers everyone. I hope it gets favorited a lot and more people can use it!

posted by skepticallypleased at 12:28 PM on July 21, 2007

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