Have you ever been on a long road trip and taken a quick nap in the passenger seat, or been too tired to continue driving? The phenomenon behind why car rides make us sleepy involves some physics, and a group of Australian researchers are onto exactly why we feel so drowsy when traveling in the car.

The Study

According to researchers at RMIT University in Australia, what makes us so drowsy when driving or riding are the vibrations a vehicle makes while it moves. Professor Stephen Robinson notes that while the effects of vibrations on drivers aren’t totally clear yet, there’s evidence that proves it plays a big role in drowsy driving. In their recent study and simulation, they recorded the different effects of driving under various vibration frequencies.

With 15 volunteers, Robinson and another chief investigator, Associate Professor Mohammad Fard, placed each volunteer in a virtual driving simulator that replicates driving on a two-lane highway. They performed two tests for 60 minutes each: one with vibrations at low frequencies, and one without vibrations. When you’re tired, your nervous system compensates for the diminished psychological and physical tasks involved with driving. So, to determine drowsiness, they checked the volunteers’ heart rate variability while they were driving in the simulator.

When they performed the test with low frequency vibrations, the subjects were displaying qualities of drowsiness within 15 minutes of beginning the simulation. As time increased, their drowsiness also increased, and peaked at the 60-minute mark.

Although this research is in its infant stages, it’s a big stepping stone to understanding just how and why driving makes us drowsy. Eventually, RMIT researchers want to test different frequency levels that could result in the opposite effect of feeling drowsy.

Ways to Keep Yourself Awake while Driving

Now that we know how easy it is to feel drowsy when driving, how do you prevent it? While we don’t have a magic on and off switch, we can prepare ourselves to diminish feeling drowsy before and during the drive. Before you hit the road, consider using these tips to prevent drowsy driving:

  • Why Do Car Rides Make You Sleepy?Take a catnap – Studies have shown that the optimal nap time is 20 minutes. If you’re planning on hitting the road later in the day, make some time to rest up.
  • Eat a healthy meal – No matter if it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner, make sure you have a well-balanced meal before driving. Try to avoid processed foods and sugar-heavy foods – that stuff can make you fall into a food coma!
  • Take vitamins – To give yourself an extra boost of energy, take vitamins B and C.
  • Pre-pack snacks and water – Pack some healthy snacks like apple slices or a bag of nuts for the road. Again, the less sugar, the better. And make sure you’re keeping yourself hydrated while avoiding large amounts of caffeine.

If you start to feel drowsy while driving, pull over in a safe area and take a 20-minute nap. You’ll feel groggy after the nap, so give yourself an extra 15 minutes to get up, stretch, and walk around. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so don’t push yourself if you’re feeling too tired to drive.

The Bottom Line

Never drive drowsy. It’s just as bad as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and can cause serious damage to you, your car, and others on the road. Always be alert and awake.

If you severely damaged your vehicle due to drowsy driving, or are simply in need of a car but worry your credit is holding you back, let us help at Auto Credit Express. We work with a nationwide network of dealers that have the lending resources available to get you the financing you need. Get started by filling out our free auto loan request form online today.