When you get tired while taking a long drive, do you push through, or stop and rest?

I ended up having to make a 3 hour trip recently, and left just as it was getting dark.  When I was younger I would think nothing of making such a trip, but as I get older I wonder if I'm making a good decision.  The last thing I want to do is nod off at the wheel and hurt someone!  

Are there any good guidelines on how tired is "too tired" to drive, or is that just a caluclation that everyone has to make for themselves?

  Topic Automotive Subtopic Cars Tags question sleep fatigue safety
1 Years 1 Answer 1.9k views

Christopher Martin

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Answers ( 1 )

  1. J Starr 4415 Community Answer

    It sounds as if you were provided a lesson for which you did not have to pay-  and aren't you, and all those on the same road at the same time, damned lucky.

    Yup, don't mess about with driving while you are very tired, especially when middle age is creeping up, or has sprinted past. As you recall, when, as a young adult you took off after a short night and a long day, it all seemed so easy!  Crank the music, swig coffee or "energy drinks" (a huge bolus of caffeine) and you were good to go 'til dawn-  "No more speed now, almost there. Gotta keep cool now, gotta take care-"  Radar Love, Baby.  The difference is you are not that young buck anymore, with hormones instead of common sense and an ability to change focus very fast- faster than as a middle-aged adult.  Not much, mind you- and often offset by the types of things you focus upon- but faster. 

    Here's the deal: The middle-aged brain becomes better at 4 of 6 cognitive tasks than they were as a young adult brain-   which should put those sneering whippersnappers on notice- but the two they lose some ability in are significant: Memorization skills- especially short term- and perceptual speed- your attention or focus speed. Sorry.  The first one is significant for driving because of all those little bits you should be aware of at all times: Who is behind you, in which lane, at what speed, where the exit is coming up, do you need gas--  on and on.  Those details are things which your short term memory should be hanging onto for a bit longer before discarding them (the usual) or placing them in long term storage (unusual- that's why name loss for someone new becomes... a bit more hit or miss without specific practices).

    But the important one is that perceptual speed.  Think of that as reflexes- how fast you respond to a change in your surroundings and conscious awareness. That slows down enough to impact not just driving, but nearly every action you take. It's why you can lose your balance more easily, you don't catch the ball as often, you might choke a bit when swallowing, or feel a bit trepidatious when changing planes (going down steps, for instance);  your brain is slower at responding to changes to information it is receiving.

    On the upside, your concentration gets better- you are less distractable, which is great unless your spouse has to call your name three times to get your attention- that might be a problem.  Work on it, eh? And you notice more "things" than you did as a youngster. 

    Which is why you noticed how easily it would have been for you to go to sleep while driving.

    So, don't do it again.  However, since life comes at you fast and crap happens, when you do have to do it again, follow some safety tips: 

    • Try for a nap before you go; even an hour will help reset your internal clock
    • Don't load up on simple carbs before you go, or use them as a snack;  that carb fog is real, and could knock you into a dangerous spot in your concentration
    • Do bring along some caffeine drinks- coffee, Monsters, Mountain Dew, the usual caffeine-heavy suspects
    • Make sure any medications you take, for instance, Benedryl for allergies, do not list "May cause drowsiness" on its label;  drowsiness is the last thing you want
    • Better than audio books would be music, and music you can sing along to is best of all.  Crank it and sing on out, no one's gonna hear you
    • If you have a cold-pack, like the kind for injuries, crack it and place it on the back of your neck if you get drowsy.  Keep track of the time: Two minutes on, two minutes off.  You'll be surprised how well it works- although it doesn't last as long as--
    • Pull over and get a quick nap.  There's a self-hypnosis trick that can help: As you are settling in to doze, tell yourself over and over that you are going to doze- not sleep- for 45 minutes, and then you are going to wake up refreshed and ready to finish the drive.  Over and over, you will doze for 45 minutes and wake up ready to finish the drive.  Doesn't matter if you actually sleep, because in 45 minutes, you will be ready to finish the drive.
    • If you find yourself at all zoning out, pull over immediately.  Do whatever you need to do to wake up fully enough so that you can drive yourself to a safer spot- a long exit ramp, a gas station or rest area- and get your 45 minutes in. 

    Sorry to have been the bearer of bummer tidings- getting older ain't fer sissies, see, and middle age appears to be about weeding out the weak.  Make it through to the other side, and someone else will do the driving, so you can nap as long as you like.

    UTC 2020-08-31 05:15 PM 2 Comments

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