Driving drowsy: Should you drink coffee or take a nap?

Always stay alert
by Jason Tulio | Jun 23, 2018
A driver having coffee behind the wheel
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Driving while you’re sleepy is one of the most dangerous things you could do on the road. If you’re feeling tired, or your eyes are starting to shut, it pays to pull over and take a short break. But should you doze off, or stop by a convenience store for a cup of coffee?

According to ‘Aging and Nocturnal Driving: Better with Coffee or a Nap? A Randomized Study’ published in Sleep journal in 2007, it actually depends on your age.

The study took two sample groups, one with participants aged 20 to 25 and the other with participants aged 40 to 50, and subjected them to one of the following: a cup of coffee, a placebo, or a 30-minute nap.

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They then drove about 200km on a highway between 6pm and 7:30pm, and between 2am and 3:30am. Inappropriate line crossings, participant observations, and polysomnographic recordings were analyzed.

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A driver taking a nap behind the wheel of a vehicle

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The results showed that caffeine significantly reduced the risks of line crossings in both young and middle-aged people. Furthermore, caffeine was effective in improving performance and reducing sleepiness in both groups. Napping, meanwhile, was found to be more efficient with the younger group than with the older one. Half an hour of sleep, though, didn’t help to improve sleepiness. Perhaps it had to do with the length of time—according to the SleepFoundation.org, the ideal length of time is 10 to 20 minutes, as this will “provide recovery benefits without leaving the napper feeling sleepy afterward.”

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No matter which option you take, always remember: When in doubt, pull over for as long as you need to. Getting to your destination in one piece is way more important than getting there on time.

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