Driver at dusk

How to Stay Alert While Driving at Night

Driving while drowsy can cause traffic violations and accidents. In fact, some studies show that roughly 20% of fatal motor crashes involve drowsy driving. These tips will help you stay alert on long car trips when you drive at late hours.

Start Off Well Rested

Because of your natural circadian rhythm, your body is more alert in the daytime and less alert at night. Most people experience a big dip in energy between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m., when sleep usually takes place. This dip in energy is more pronounced when the body is sleep deprived. Driving late at night when already sleep deprived can be dangerous.

To give yourself the best chance of driving safely, start off your drive after a good night’s sleep. Get a full 8 hours, if that’s what you normally require.

Know When It’s Time for a Nap

During your drive, you might notice some of the signs that your driving has been impaired by drowsiness. These signs include:

  • Wandering, unfocused thoughts
  • Yawning several times consecutively
  • Driving off course, going to the wrong location, or missing an exit
  • Driving onto the rumble strip on the shoulder of the road

When you start to notice these problems, the best thing to do is to stop for the night. If you can’t, a 20 minute power nap is a good way to boost energy and alertness. Anyone who naps in their car should follow basic safety procedures:

  • Pull into a parking lot or rest stop.
  • Keep the doors locked.
  • Do not leave valuables visible in the car.

Avoid parking your car on the side of the road, especially if the road is heavily traveled or the shoulder is shallow. When looking for a parking lot where you can park your car, be aware of your surroundings and the people nearby. Never park in a location that appears unsafe.

Take Frequent Breaks

When driving at night, take frequent breaks to keep your blood pumping and your brain functioning. Stop at gas stations, rest areas, convenience stores, and other places where you can walk around in the light. If you buy something, strike up a conversation with the clerk to keep your brain going.

Drink Coffee

It’s well-known that coffee that contains caffeine can help you stay awake. In fact, drinking coffee can help you stay alert in more ways than one. In addition to increasing your heart rate, coffee can prompt you to get out frequently for bathroom breaks.

Switch Drivers

Sometimes it helps just to take your eyes off the road for a while. If you drive with a partner who is able to drive, switch seats occasionally to give your eyes a rest.


Talking can help you keep your mind focused. Interesting conversation increases your heart rate and helps keep your mind sharp. You don’t have to have someone in the car to speak with you. If you’re alone, pretend that someone is in the car with you and imagine the other side of the conversation. Don’t worry: no one will know!

Eat Well

Your body relies on more than just sleep for energy. Eating well before and during a car trip can help you stay energized. If you’re stopped at a restaurant, eat something protein-filled (like eggs), or something that contains complex carbohydrates (like oatmeal). If you’re driving and don’t want to stop, try eating a banana — they’re filling and won’t make a mess in the car.

Contact Us for More Driving Tips

If you’re looking for more information about how you can keep your mind focused at night during a long car ride, contact Online Traffic Education. We’re happy to share information that can help you drive safely.