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Falling Asleep While Driving

Banner Health understands that driving is an important part of your life and we want to help you stay safe and alert behind the wheel. Whether it’s errands that need to be run, commuting to work or shuttling kids between activities, you have obligations and need to get around.

Learn the warning signs and solutions for falling asleep while driving.

What Happens When I Drive When Tired?

When you drive tired or drowsy, it not only puts you at danger but others as well. Many people are fatigued due to work, school or family commitments and pose a risk to themselves and others when on the road. It’s important to understand why you feel tired while driving: Are you not getting enough sleep at night? Have you taken medication that makes you drowsy? Do you have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea?

What Increases My Risk?

Have you asked yourself “Why do I fall asleep while driving?” You may have more than one reason that you’re tired behind the wheel. Ask yourself if you’re doing any of the following:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Driving alone on a long, rural, dark or boring road
  • Driving long distances without regular rest breaks
  • Driving through the night or when you would usually be asleep
  • Shift work
  • Sleeping six hours or less – this triples your risk
  • Suffering from insomnia, sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome
  • Working more than 60 hours per week

What Over the Counter Medications Cause Drowsiness?

Sometimes you’re sick and need to take medication. Many cold, flu and allergy medicines have ingredients that leave you tired. These may include:

  • Brompheniramine, the ingredient in Dimetane® and Comtrex® Maximum Strength Acute Head and Cold
  • Diphenhydramine, found in Contac® Day/Night and Benadryl® Allergy
  • Pseudoephedrine, a nasal decongestant found in cold remedies and diet aids may also cause insomnia
  • Triprolidine, the active ingredient in Actifed® and Sudafed® Sinus Nighttime

It is important to read the label, precautions and side effects on all medications to see if they may cause drowsiness. You may also want to check with your pharmacist or doctor for more information.

What Are Signs That I'm Too Tired To Drive?

It’s important to be aware of the warning signs of tired driving. Pull over immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Excessive yawning
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open
  • Drifting into other lanes

If you start to fall asleep while driving, pull over immediately to rest.

What Can I do if I Feel Tired While Driving?

If you start to feel tired or drowsy while driving, take action before you find yourself asleep at the wheel. There are things you can do to avoid and prevent falling asleep while driving and stay alert by trying the following:

  • Find a place to stop as soon as possible and rest for 20 minutes
  • Give driving responsibility to your companion, if possible
  • Drink caffeine for short-term alertness, but wait 30 minutes for a noticeable result

While getting to your destination is your goal, your safety and the safety of others on the road is more important. Take the time to rest when you need it. If you find yourself constantly falling asleep while driving, reach out to the sleep specialists at Banner Health to help diagnose and test any potential sleep disorders you may have.