Now, I'm one of those guys who loves to drive. I mean, give me an excuse to hop in my car and I'm off. I'll go on drives out to the middle of nowhere just for the fun of it! But one thing I hate is driving when I'm tired.

You know what I mean: long day at work/school/the mall, you just want to get home and go to bed, but you've driven this route SO many times that you just start nodding off.... Micro-sleeps: when you nod your head and close your eyes for one second and then jerk awake and have to spend half a minute trying to figure out where you are. It's amazing (and scary) how far you can travel without actually paying attention to the road. I've survived hundreds of micro-sleeps (though I had a car that got totaled because of one; but that's a story for another post).

The heart of this subject, I guess, is how to stay awake. Everyone has a method: for me it's rolling down the windows, blaring music, singing, slapping myself in the face (you should see the looks I get from some passengers when this happens). I know other people who will smoke (cigarettes OR cigars), some who will buy energy drinks or energy pills, and others who just blink like crazy and look like they're trying to do the Macarena in their seat! There are some crazy ways to stay awake out there. Reminds me of a couple lines from a song I know:

Hey, how do you stay awake at 4:00 am?
"I try the rhythm method!" BAM, BAM, BAM!
Alive, awake, alert, awake, alive, awake, alert!
It's good if it's engaging (it's better if it hurts...)

- from "Wichita" by The Billies

OneNight says:

I enjoy driving as well, but on drives you've done hundreds of times it is sometimes difficult to stay with it, especially when you're tired.

To combat the tedium I usually just turn up the music a little (not blaring, but pretty loud) and if there is aircondition in the car I turn that on and aim it at my face.

Jackson says:

My dad once cured my driving sleepiness in a very unpleasant way - he pinched the middle of my arm REALLY hard. It worked like a charm - got my adrenaline pumping and woke me right up - though I was kinda yelling at him in my newfound wakefulness.

It's hard to do yourself because you don't usually try deliberately to hurt yourself that bad.

Wirehead says:

Yeah, pain works. Like impacting a concrete wall at 70 MPH, I'm sure that'd wake you up...for a second.

First the serious response: My little brother is 21 years old and has a daughter who was born in September. Two years ago he was in LA with his girlfriend driving on an interstate late at night with his girlfriend in the passenger seat. He apparently nodded off briefly at precisely the wrong moment - the freeway made a 30 degree left turn and then continued. At the point where it shifted left there was a blank concrete wall, which he impacted at about 60 MPH. This was a route he'd driven many times, of course, and should have been familiar with.

The car was utterly destroyed. Both of them had to be cut out of it. He now has a steel pin in his hip, eleven fake teeth (almost none of his front teeth are real) and is unable to do any sort of physical labor for extended periods, or even stay on his feet for a long time. Since he's deaf, this presents a problem as most of the jobs he's had were things like loading UPS trucks or restocking shelves, even making the drinks at a Starbucks. He used to be quite the fitness nut, and now he can't really do any excercises with his legs because it hurts too much.

His girlfriend's back was broken in two places. She had numerous other injuries but none were very severe. She now has four vertebrae surgically fused together so that she can live normally. Her range of motion is restricted somewhat, and she had to deliver her daughter by c-section because the pain of the baby pressing on the fused vertebrae was too great even with painkillers.

The lesson, of course: for GODS SAKE, pull over for ten minutes and take a nap if you're tired. A fifteen minute nap will keep you awake for easily an hour. Don't drive anywhere if you notice you're tired enough to start nodding.

I've done this in the past and had some nut-puckering moments, figured I could handle it, drink more coffee, smoke, whatever - but since my little brother nearly killed himself AND his girlfriend and cut his job options by about 80% in two seconds of inattention, I realized it's just not worth messing around. If you were holding a loaded gun to your head that had a trigger you had to apply pressure to to PREVENT it from firing, would you perform this activity while you were sleepy? A car is even more dangerous than a loaded gun - because you can kill or seriously injure not just yourself but potentially dozens of others (as witness all the old folks who SHOULD have stopped driving years ago pulling the old "woops, which pedal is the brake" and plowing into crowds of schoolkids).

Anyway, if I'm just a little run down, I crank up some fast-paced rock/metal type stuff, or supremely goofy music like Lords of the Rhymes, which I am not at all embarassed to say that I sing along to and know all the words. Singing along to something seems to do a much better job of keeping you alert than just listening. Also if there is another person in the car, talking to them about anything (particularly some kind of argumentative subject - politics and religion are good) helps a lot.

And of course, as anyone who knows me should be well-aware, COFFEE is the ultimate solution. Caffeine takes ten or fifteen minutes to really start working in my experience, so if you're really tired, don't just go to a drive through and expect to feel better the moment you're driving again - sit somewhere and have a few sips before you get back on the road.

bob says:

When I'm tired, enough caffeine to keep me wake causes... um... enough gastrointestinal distress to make the coffee a bit counterproductive -- especially so when driving. Best solution is just get enough sleep, but failing that, speed up a bit, open the windows, turn the radio up, etc.

I tell you, I was a passenger one time and looked over to find the driver completely asleep. To this day, when I'm in a car and it's night time, I can't fall asleep -- it becomes my duty to keep the driver awake.

rnewhouse says:

It's practically impossible to fall asleep if you are chewing something crunchy, or if you have a mouthful of water.

I agree, best thing is to pull over and SLEEP -- but sometimes that's either impossible or not very safe. If you can pull over and walk around the car every five or ten minutes, that's not too bad.

Coffee can actually put you to sleep if you've already had a lot of it. Bananas are good "keep awake" food.

Or open the window ALL the way and hang your arm out into the windstream.

Jackson says:

Actually, singing to loud music keeps me awake. This is easily confused with playing loud music - that doesn't work. I have to actually force myself to sing along. The faster the song, the more awake I stay. Slipknot works.

One thing I find interesting is that I may be just barely tired prior to getting in the car, but the second I sit down in that seat it magnifies about 50x. What's up with that? Boredom?

DataBind() says:

Hey, Wirehead, you ever brew coffee with caffeinated water? Jump starts a cadaver.

I'm sure there must be a saturation point with the caffeine, but I haven't seem to have found it yet.

Wirehead says:

I have found that one shot of espresso is roughly equivalent to 40 minutes of sleep. That is, if I need to feel like I've had 7 hours of sleep, and I only slept 4, then I need to have about 4-5 shots of espresso and I feel normal.

I've never had access to caffeinated water, but I would imagine it would add some kind of bitterness to the end result, and I'm probably the most picky coffee snob you'll ever run into. I have a completely ridiculous espresso machine at home, and I mail-order all my coffee from one or two places because in my opinion you can't get a decent espresso roast within 75 miles of my home in any direction. If it threw the balance of flavor off, I wouldn't be able to drink it - so unless the c.water you mention is almost completely flavorless, I probably wouldn't be able to tolerate it.

rnewhouse says:

Ha, you are not a TRUE coffee snob unless you buy all your own organically grown beans directly from the farmer who planted them, then roast them yourself on customized equipment, and grind them by hand and brew up the result using pure filtered spring water. Like my sister does.

My own personal coffee is usually Starbucks' brew-of-the-day, although I do like Gavalia's Peruvian Organic.

lidge_34 says:

Since I'm not a coffee drinker, it is a bit tougher for me. But I definitely think that getting a passenger to talk to you is the best way. As for music, I find it the exact opposite--I tend to drown out any Metallica or other hard rock, since I'm so used to hearing it. I find that it has to be something that I haven't heard in a while and that generally keeps me going. Coldplay or Evanescence or something like that. And having anything to drink helps.

bob says:

As long as I have something to eat and drink (slowly) and something active to do, I can pretty much stay up indefinately, although 4 days is about as long as I've tried. After 2 days I start hallucinating though.

Wirehead says:

I do have my own roaster, and these ARE organic beans. I won't even discuss how they are selected. Everything is ground within a few seconds of brewing it - my grinder is actually built in to the left side of my espresso machine. The grinder by itself would cost $140 or thereabouts. The machine with integrated grinder costs about $1200 new (it is NOT one of those cheezoid automatic machines - it's entirely manual, which is the only way to get a truly GOOD shot of espresso IMHO).

bob: Yeah, I can substitute food for sleep to a certain extent. Often if I'm pulling an all-nighter I can just eat something and I'm good for several more hours. I have to actually have something to DO though. If I have some kind of interesting, involved project to work on, I can stay up almost indefinitely. I think my record was about 4 or 5 days as well, but it's a little hazy (heh).

bob says:

Oh yeah, and after 3 days (72 hours without sleep) I have the distinct certainty that I'm going to die, like I've messed myself up and that's it, I'll fall over dead any second.

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