Road trips can be fun as new adventures lay ahead, but they can also be tiring. If you take a quick look into passing by cars, you may see passengers dozing in their seats. Drivers themselves can become sleepy, too, making long road trips a risky venture.
Here are 4 reasons why road trips are so tiring:
- Predictable road conditions do not stimulate the brain.
- Circadian rhythms are altered causing drowsiness.
- Vibrations on your vehicle are soothing to the body.
- There is a medical explanation for excessive sleepiness.
Read on for more in-depth detail about the reasons why road trips are so tiring, as well as some tips to stay alert.
1. Predictable Road Conditions Do Not Stimulate the Brain
Somnolence, or excessive drowsiness, can be caused by predictable road conditions. This is when the stretch of road is constant and consistently the same as you travel.
The brain isn’t as actively involved with driving, resulting in a lack of mental stimulus, and drivers and passengers can become relaxed and sleepy. Drivers may comment that they don’t remember things from driving on the road.
2. Circadian Rhythms Are Altered Causing Drowsiness
Road trips can coincide with a person’s circadian rhythms when drowsiness can occur, which is typically in the early morning hours and the mid-afternoons.
Circadian rhythms naturally follow a 24-hour cycle, involving processes that respond to light and darkness. Genes activate proteins that build up at the cellular level at night and lessen during the day.
These proteins affect alertness and sleepiness. However, environmental triggers can affect circadian rhythms, such as exposure to light when it’s dark, affecting the release of melatonin and eating habits, and digestion.
So, if a trip starts at 8:00 am and then extends until 2:00 pm, a person may become excessively tired due to the predictability of the road conditions and circadian rhythms.
Shift workers may experience drowsiness when driving due to the impact of unnatural lighting during their work hours.
3. Vibrations on Your Vehicle Are Soothing to the Body
Vehicles vibrate from uneven road surfaces, and even the smoothest roads will cause your vehicle to vibrate gently.
As drivers and passengers, you may not notice these subtle vibrations, but subconsciously your body does. Parents may often tell you that their crying infants will fall asleep on a car ride as the gentle vibrations help lull them. The same is true for adults, with the vibrations relaxing the brain and body.
Additionally, your muscles and brain work to implement the small movements of the steering wheel and vehicle to keep your posture in place and the vehicle in between the lines. These minute movements result in constant work making your muscles fatigued.
Racecar drivers will tell you that their sport is physically demanding and that they must train to stay in shape to counteract the vibrations and force of the speed on their bodies. They also talk about how much this can tire them out physically and mentally.
4. There Is a Medical Explanation for Excessive Sleepiness
The CDC states that driving while drowsy is a significant problem in the U.S. Driving drowsy mimics driving behaviors like drunk driving, such as inattentiveness, reduced coordination, slower reaction time, and poor judgment.
Being awake for 18 hours can be the same as someone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05%. And, 24 hours is equal to a BAC of 0.10%, which is higher than the legal limit in all states.
In addition to the reasons mentioned above, untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia, and medications can cause sleepiness.
People that sleep six or fewer hours a night are more likely to fall asleep while driving on the road. The CDC shares that approximately 1 out 25 surveyed driving adults report falling asleep while driving in the past 30 days.
Highway Hypnosis Might Occur After a Long Trip
Drivers and passengers alike experience drowsiness while on road trips, and it’s not just something that long-haul truck drivers can experience, which is often referred to as “highway hypnosis.”
Highway hypnosis most commonly occurs when driving on an open highway for a long time. The driver may appear to be in a dulled and tired state, perhaps looking like they’re in a trance.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that up to 6000 fatal crashes are caused yearly due to drowsy or inattentive drivers. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shares that over 100,000 collisions per year result from driver sleepiness.
Driving while sleeping puts drivers, passengers, and other people on the road at risk.
What To Do To Avoid Tiring Road Trips
If you’re a passenger, it’s okay to sleep. However, if you’re the driver and notice that:
- You’re yawning or blinking a lot
- Slouching or nodding your head
- Not remembering the last few miles that you’ve driven
- Missing exits and turns
- Drifting your vehicle
- Hitting a rumble strip
… then, you need to stop and take a break that involves more than turning up the radio, gulping down high amounts of caffeine, or opening the window.
Try these tips to regain focus, energy, and physical and mental stamina to have and to continue a safe road trip:
- Pull over safely and take a 15-20 minute nap. Lock your doors and close your eyes. Bring along a pillow, such as the MLVOC Memory Foam Neck Pillow (available on Amazon.com). This comes with a 3-D sleep mask, earplugs, and a travel bag to put them all in. The foam will contour to your neck to provide excellent support. Just make sure you don’t drive with this pillow in place.
- Switch places and nap while your licensed passenger takes a turn to drive. Don’t drive alone for long trips if you can help it.
- Get treatment for sleep disorders and avoid medications, if you can, that make you sleepy. Never drink alcohol and drive. Ask someone else to drive for you if these are unavoidable issues.
- Get proper sleep each night for at least a week before your road trip. Start trips earlier in the day when you are awake and alert.
- Don’t slouch in your seat, and hold your head up. Take a break in a safe location every two hours or so to stretch your body out.
Drink caffeine, if you can tolerate it, before leaving on your trip. Besides, you’re bound to have to stop and take a break to use the restroom, which is good to do too.