Thousands of crashes occur each year due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Learn the signs so that you know when you are getting drowsy, what puts you at risk for drowsy driving, and what to do to stay alert.

What Are the Signs of Sleepiness?

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety provides some warning sign to help you identify when you are getting too tired to drive. If you begin to experience any of these, it is time to stop driving and get some sleep:

  • Trouble keeping your eyes open and focused
  • Nod and can't keep your head up
  • Daydream or have wandering, disconnected thoughts
  • Yawn a lot or need to rub your eyes
  • Find yourself drifting out of your lane or tailgating
  • Miss road signs or drive past your turn
  • Feel irritable, restless, and impatient
  • Drift off the road and hit the rumble strip on the highway

Are You at Risk?

To determine if you are at an increased risk for a sleep-related traffic accident, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety asks the following questions:

  • Are you male, aged 26 years or younger?
  • Have you been awake for 20 hours or more?
  • Have you had six hours of sleep or less in the last 24 hours?
  • Do you often drive between midnight and 6 am?
  • Do you frequently feel drowsy while you are driving?
  • Do you work the night shift?
  • Are you a long-haul truck driver?
  • Are you a business traveler who spends a lot of time on the road and suffers from jet lag?
  • Do you work more than one job?
  • Do you have undiagnosed ]]>sleep apnea]]>?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you are at a higher risk of having a car accident related to being tired.

In addition, analysis of sleepy driver crashes shows that having taken ]]>sleeping medication]]> on a previous night was associated with subsequent crash. If you spend time on the road, don’t use sleeping medications that could produce rebound sleepiness the next day.

What Can You Do?

When you are sitting for long periods of time, it is only natural for your body to go into rest mode. Simple exercises can help "wake up" your joints and increase circulation to your limbs:

  • Roll your shoulders backward and then forward 10 times.
  • Shake out your hands one at a time for a count of five. Do this twice for each hand.
  • Stretch out your neck and legs when it is safe to do so.
  • Sit up straight in your seat. Slumping in your chair restricts lung capacity, thereby reducing oxygen to the brain and increasing that sleepy feeling.
  • If your eyes feel strained and dry, try artificial drops to refresh them.

Note: If you are relying on coffee to keep you awake, it is time to pull over and call it a night. The best strategy is to take a break from being behind the wheel.

If your circumstances require driving when fatigued, you may wish to talk to your doctor about whether a prescription drug could offer benefit. Also, if you suspect you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about your symptoms so you can get proper treatment.

In the meantime, it is important to remember that driving when sleepy may be as dangerous as drunk driving—for you and for others on the road.