How to stay alert during summer road trips

It’s officially road trip season, which means that people across Michigan are whipping out their GPS gadgets and piling into the car. But before you set out, it’s important that you prepare for the long journey. That doesn’t just mean packing plenty of car games to keep the kids entertained—you’ll also need to plan ahead for how to deal with drowsy driving.

Let’s face it: Driving can be boring. After about 50 miles, monotony can set in, especially if you have autopilot on or you’re surrounded by uninteresting scenery (oh look, another exit). If you find your eyelids becoming heavy (or if you’re a passenger and notice that your driver’s are!), make sure you immediately pull off the road. Although you may be tempted to buy a cup of coffee at the gas station, don’t. Sure caffeine gives you an energy boost, but it’s followed by an energy low that will leave you feeling foggy, lethargic and even more tired than before. So instead of caffeine, try one of these other tricks:

  • Switch drivers. If you’re lucky enough to have someone riding in the passenger seat, ask him or her to take over. Taking turns throughout a road trip will allow all drivers to feel rested before getting behind the wheel.
  • Take a walk. While you’re pulled over, stretch your legs and take a brisk 10-minute walk. Walking will pump oxygen through your veins, brain and muscles for increased energy. If you’re taking a long road trip, a good rule of thumb is to stop every two hours to get out of the car and get some fresh air.
  • Eat healthy snacks. Although fast food may be extremely convenient, avoid it! Like caffeine, sugar-filled, processed foods are a quick fix that will leave you feeling foggy. For long-lasting energy, stick to high-protein snacks like peanut butter and celery sticks, yogurt, almonds, fruits and veggies.
  • Take a deep breath. Deep breathing exercises raise blood oxygen levels in your body, stimulating the mind. Try this easy exercise at a rest stop when both of your hands are free: Sit up straight. Place one hand on your stomach, below your ribs. Place the other hand on chest. Breathe deeply through your nose and exhale through the mouth. When you exhale, keep your lips pursed as if you are whistling and try to make your belly push your hand out. Repeat 10 times.
  • Crank up the AC. Warm air can make you feel super relaxed and drowsy, so be sure to turn the air conditioner up to fight that feeling.
  • Listen to an audiobook. Keep your mind focused by listening to an engaging audio book. If you aren’t interested in the audio book though, it may make you sleepy instead of alert. So laugh along to Tina Fey’s autobiography “Bossypants” or solve mysteries with Scott Smith’s “A Simple Plan.”
  • Call it a day. If you try these tricks and find that nothing is helping you feel awake, pull over and check into a hotel. With driver fatigue causing about 100,000 crashes each year, you don’t want to put your life— or the lives of those around you— in danger. You may be a little late getting to your final destination, but wherever you’re heading will still be there tomorrow morning.

Photo credit: Chase Elliott Clark

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