With summer in full swing, the hot weather and the sunny evenings go hand in hand with one of the most quintessential Canadian traditions—road trips! There’s nothing quite like preparing for a long, multi-day drive to visit family, go camping in the woods, or explore a new part of the country. Clothing? Check! Food? Check! Plenty of sleep? No? It’s one of the most important safety checks you can do.

Driving while tired might seem like a typical occurrence for you if you’re up early commuting to the office, or coming back from class late at night, but it’s actually a risky habit you should do your best to avoid. Driving a vehicle safely requires focus—something you can’t guarantee if you’re not sleeping well. So, before you head out on your next adventure with friends or family, here’s how to identify and combat sleepy driving.

Driving while tired is normal, isn’t it?

As normalized as sleep deprivation has become in our perpetually busy lives, it doesn’t make it “normal” or safe to drive. Whether drivers are struggling with sleep apnea, chronic sleep deprivation, or another undiagnosed sleep problem, the results are largely the same—tired drivers are at a much higher risk of causing an accident. With billions of dollars lost every year to sleep-related accidents, it’s no surprise that sleep-deprived motorists experience similar symptoms to those driving under the influence of alcohol.

Sleep is a powerful tool that we all have at our disposal, and not getting enough of it can produce some undesirable side effects. Poor or insufficient sleep can lead to mental exhaustion, an inability to focus, mood swings and irritability, and a decreased sense of perception—all things you typically want to avoid while driving a few-thousand-pound chunk of metal at high speeds!

How do I recognize sleepy driving?

If you’re usually tired during the day, chances are you’re probably tired while driving, too. Obvious signs include excessive yawning, trouble keeping your eyes open or drifting in and out of your lane. But less noticeable signs might involve missing turns or road signs, having trouble maintaining your speed, or being unable to remember parts of your drive due to zoning out.

Additionally, the risks of these symptoms are amplified when mixed with less-than-perfect driving conditions such as rain, fog and snow, or if you regularly drive early in the morning or late at night when visibility is limited. Shift-workers are also at particular risk of driving while tired due to the nature of their schedules, as well as those who are taking sleep-inducing medication.

What can I do if I catch myself sleepy at the wheel?

While there’s no substitute for a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, there are a few ways to mitigate your risk if you must drive. On longer trips or times when you’re more likely to be sleepy, share the driving time with a passenger. Taking breaks to allow each other to sleep might help you improve your alertness and focus.

If available, arrange for a friend or family member to pick you up after a late shift if you’re too tired to drive, or call a taxi or ride-share service to take you home. You can also temporarily boost your alertness with a caffeinated drink if necessary. As a last resort, if you constantly find yourself drifting in and out of focus, pull over at a rest stop and nap—it just might be the safest option that prevents you from an accident.

If you find yourself exhausted on your daily drive, we’re here to help. Book a complimentary sleep consultation and start sleeping better before that summer road trip.

We wrote this post with reference to a journal on PubMed Central®. You can read the full journal here.