Why Do Road Trips Make You Tired? Ways to Cope

Why do road trips make you tired?

Have you ever felt exhausted after a long road trip?

Well, you're not alone, and this happens for many reasons.

Road trips often lead to fatigue because of prolonged sitting and lack of physical activity, resulting in limited blood circulation, affecting alertness and energy levels.

Similarly, constant concentration on the road and its surrounding hazards, along with the monotony of the journey, can lead to mental exhaustion, amplifying the feeling of tiredness.

My spouse and I take a 14-hour road trip to visit friends once a year. We often plow our way through and make the trip in a single day, but that is a long day.

Last year, we broke the trip into two days, which was much more enjoyable. Consider this on any longer trips you have planned. Leave late afternoon and get in a few hours of driving to break up the trip.

man driving straight on pathway during day time

In this article, we will explore:

  • The impact of long distances and the significance of taking breaks
  • Different variables that contribute to travel fatigue
  • Practical tactics to mitigate travel-induced exhaustion
  • The safety concerns around driver fatigue and how to navigate them

The Toll of Long Distances and The Significance of Breaks

Embarking on a long road trip is like running a marathon – it puts a considerable strain on your mental and physical faculties. Heck – I've done half-marathons and have felt the stress in my body increasing!

Travel Fatigue

It's no secret that long road trips can be physically exhausting. You are confined to one position for long stretches, and this lack of movement can lead to discomfort and fatigue.

Highway Hypnosis

Have you ever driven for so long that you reached your destination with little recollection of the journey? Welcome to ‘highway hypnosis.'

This is a mental state where a person can drive a vehicle great distances, responding to external events in an expected manner, with no recollection of having consciously done so.

It's weirdly fascinating but also an obvious sign of mental exhaustion.

Scary – but this has happened to me – I was on the road for less than two hours! It's freaky to get to your destination and not remember a portion of the trip. I find snacking helps me stay alert.

Taking Breaks

Rest stops exist for a reason. Regular, short breaks during your trip are integral to managing your energy levels.

Frequent breaks, whether to admire new sights, grab a healthy snack, or simply stretch your legs, can help alleviate fatigue and keep the journey enjoyable rather than draining.

Long journeys aren't for the faint-hearted; they need adequate planning and regular rest periods. After all, the journey should be as enjoyable as the destination.

man looking at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

The Impacts of Different Variables on Fatigue

Jet Lag From Time Zones

Road trips often include crossing several time zones. Our bodies naturally have a circadian rhythm that adjusts based on the time of day and light patterns.

This rhythm controls various bodily functions such as sleep, alertness, and hunger over approximately 24 hours.

When we enter a new time zone, the discrepancy between local time and our body's internal clock can lead to travel fatigue, known as jet lag.

It doesn't just happen with air travel; long car rides can also bring about this condition.

five assorted country wall clocks

Symptoms of jet lag: feelings of drowsiness and irregular sleep patterns to mental exhaustion and varied reaction times. These can affect driving abilities, especially for long periods of time.

There's often a general sense of disequilibrium one might experience immediately or shortly after long-distance drives across time zones. That's your body trying to adapt to the new time zone.

Poor Diet and Sleep

Lack of sleep and poor nutrition can be major contributors to travel fatigue. A long journey interrupts your normal routine, which can lead to poor sleep the night before or during the trip.

Frequently, travelers find themselves sleeping in uncomfortable situations, such as car seats or unfamiliar hotels in a new place. I'm sure we've all stayed at a hotel that just isn't comfortable!

Added to the stress of navigating unknown territories, even if you've had a good night's sleep prior, these situations can lead to poor sleep quality, increasing fatigue over the course of a long trip.

In addition to sleep, diet plays a substantial role in managing energy levels. It's easy to opt for fast food or sugary snacks for convenience during long car rides.

This sort of diet can lead to energy spikes and subsequent crashes, leaving you feeling even more worn out.

A diet lacking fresh fruit, vegetables, and adequate hydration can also promote feelings of lethargy and reduce the body’s ability to cope with other stress factors associated with a long journey.

In conclusion, time zones and poor diet and sleep can exacerbate travel fatigue. Paying close attention to these variables and strategizing accordingly can effectively mitigate their ability to tire us out during a road trip.

fruit, vegetable, apple, grapes, carrots, banana, kiwi, broccoli

Tactics to Mitigate Travel Fatigue

Hydration and Healthy Snacks

Maintaining your energy levels during long drives dramatically benefits from a steady intake of healthy snacks and plenty of water.

Healthy Snacks: Opt for snacks rich in proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats. These macronutrients release energy slowly, helping you sustain higher energy levels for an extended period of time.

Nuts, fruits, veggies, and whole grain sandwiches are excellent choices.

Hydration: Stay hydrated by drinking enough water throughout your journey. Dehydration can cause fatigue and affect your concentration. So, replenishing your bodily fluids is crucial to reduce feelings of lethargy.

Catch Up on Sleep

Sufficient sleep is vital not only before setting off on your road trip but also during the trip.

Ensure you get a good night's sleep before your trip to start your journey with a refreshed mind.

Utilize power naps whenever possible. A scientific study from RMIT University suggests a power nap of just 20 minutes can significantly reduce feelings of fatigue.

person in black shirt lying on bed with brown dog

Limit Energy Drinks and Stimulants

Despite their widespread use during long car journeys, caffeinated beverages and energy drinks should be used cautiously.

  • While these drinks can give you a short-term energy boost, they often lead to an energy crash afterward, having the opposite effect intended for keeping you alert.
  • Over-reliance on these stimulants can also affect your sleep schedule, making it more challenging to get enough rest when you finally stop for the day.

Successful management of travel fatigue during road trips involves a combination of proper diet, regular sleep, and mindful consumption of stimulants.

These mindful practices can drastically enhance your road trip experience and keep you energized throughout the journey.

shelf, shop fittings, stock of energy drinks

The Safety Concerns of Driver Fatigue

Risks Associated with Driver Fatigue

Driver fatigue is not just about feeling drowsy; it is a critical safety concern that has resulted in numerous car accidents and fatal crashes.

Fatigued drivers have significantly impaired reaction times, causing them to overlook stop signs, drift into other lanes, or fail to notice pedestrians or other vehicles in time.

The present data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asserts that approximately 100,000 police-reported crashes each year directly result from driver fatigue.

Legal Restrictions on Driving Duration

In an effort to reduce drowsy driving accidents, there are legal restrictions placed on driving duration, specifically for long-haul truckers.

  • Laws for long-haul truckers set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration limit the maximum working period in a single day. The goal is to ensure drivers have plenty of rest and reduce the risks of fatigue-related accidents.
  • It's a good idea to apply similar principles even if you are not a long-haul trucker. Implement regular intervals for breaks during your long journey and ensure you get a good night's sleep before hitting the road.

Understanding and addressing the risks associated with driver fatigue ensures your well-being and is essential for the safety of others on the road.

So, take regular breaks, get plenty of sleep, and use practical measures to stay alert during your road trip.

woman in green t-shirt sitting on brown wooden bench during daytime

FAQ's: Why Road Trips Make You Tired

How can I incorporate frequent breaks into my long trip?

Strategic planning of your route to include regular intervals of short breaks is key. These could be at rest stops, truck stops, or safe places like parking lots. Use these times for some quick exercise, meals, or naps.

How does circadian rhythm influence my energy levels during a long road trip?

Circadian rhythm is your body's internal clock that manages sleep and wakefulness. Disruptions to your normal routine, such as driving late at night or early morning when you would usually sleep, can lead to feelings of drowsiness.

Can ‘white noise' really help for a good night's sleep?

Absolutely. White noise generates a constant, soothing sound that can mask disruptive noises. It's beneficial when trying to sleep in a new place or if there's ongoing traffic outside.

What are the best energy foods and drinks for a long journey?

Hydrating fluids like water and electrolyte drinks, alongside healthy snacks rich in protein and fiber – like nuts, fruits, and granola bars – are great choices. Beware of too much caffeine, as it can have the opposite effect over time.

What are the health risks associated with excessive drowsy driving?

Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. It can lead to slow reaction times and reduced vigilance and can cause car accidents, even fatal crashes.

It's essential to take periodic rests and recognize when to stop for your safety and others on the road.

Final Thoughts: Why Do Road Trips Make You Tired?

Our long journey, passing through sections about long distances, time zones, dietary considerations, and safety issues, has led us to the destination: understanding why road trips make us tired.

Road trips can be an enjoyable adventure and a great way to experience new sights and explore new places, provided we manage our energy levels effectively and get plenty of rest.

Never undermine the potential of a good night's sleep and healthy choices when it comes to food and drinks to keep travel fatigue at bay.

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Why are Road Trips so Tiring? Tactics to Mitigate Travel Fatigue - man with hands on steering while driving.
Tips for coping with Driver's fatigue during a road trip. Three images: Fresh fruit, bottle of water, girl resting on bench overlooking a lake.
When to take a break from Driving. Why do road trips make us tired? White car driving down a single lane road with lush trees that canopy roadway.

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