Summer’s here and you’re counting down the days to your holiday. And you’re one of those enterprising types who don’t want to be packed in like sardines on a budget flight and arrive at your destination ready to enjoy your well-earned break. Instead you want to pack yourself, your loved ones and all your luggage in your car and make the journey part of your holiday adventure. The open road. How wonderful. If your destination is some distance away, say Southern France, Italy or Spain, you may be thinking about driving through the night. Many people have the same ideas as it’s not as hot, there are generally no queues and the children will be sound asleep in the back. A word of warning though – humans are not nocturnal animals. Dropping off to sleep for just a second or two can have fatal consequences, and the various pills and potions designed to counteract sleep are about as much use as a chocolate teapot. So let’s shine a light on what is fact and what is fiction.
There are some facts you simply can’t argue against. For example, if you’re tired you need sleep. Simple. The day before your night-time drive you need to get a good long sleep so you’re completely rested by the time you get in the car. The second half of the night is when it’s most difficult to stay awake. But if you’re still intent on traveling at night, here are some tips: zero alcohol, some good music, snacks and drinks, and ideally a passenger with a driver’s license. Driving at night is monotonous, and you get bored faster than if you had to deal with the chaos of daytime traffic. Music, chats and a few sweets will help pass the time. But beware: you will NOT notice yourself falling asleep, even though many people insist the opposite. Your brain can shut down even before your eyes close. What everyone notices, however, is the onset of fatigue. And that’s precisely when you need to do something about it.
Your field of vision will become restricted, your level of concentration will plummet and very soon you’ll find yourself weaving across the road. Will coffee and energy drinks help? NO. They will give you a brief buzz and the feeling that you can carry on undaunted. This moment will very quickly go to the opposite extreme because all you’re really doing is masking your fatigue. Will opening a window and getting a blast of fresh air help? NO. Why should cold air get rid of fatigue? The only thing that will really help is to turn off the freeway at the next rest stop and snooze for 15 to 25 minutes. Then get out of the car, walk around a bit, stretch and generally get the blood pumping round your body. Sleep and movement are the only ways to ensure you come through a long night-time drive unscathed. You should plan to take a break at least every two hours, and even if you do your co-driver should take over after 10 hours at the very latest. Going without sleep for 24 hours means you will have the same reaction times as someone very drunk with 100 mg alcohol per 100 ml blood!
Don’t let it get that far. No one can control their sleep but you can do something about tiredness. Turn up the dashboard lighting so it’s not too dark but doesn’t dazzle you. Ensure fresh air gets into the car, put on some good music and engage in lively discussions. And as soon as you notice you’re not quite firing on all cylinders, do yourself and everyone else a favor and take a break. A few night-time selfies for Facebook with swarms of insects buzzing round the parking lot lights are cool. Such breaks in your journey may save your life. A quick snooze at a parking lot works wonders, and will renew your friendship with your car. Try it. And have a good trip!