Q: I sleep well at night, wake up refreshed and energetic, and rarely feel tired or take naps. But when I drive for an hour or more, I become so sleepy that I have to pull over and take a 45-minute nap or risk crashing.
After I wake up, I’m alert and good to go. My mother and brother have the same problem; we call it “auto-narcolepsy” because the only time it happens is in the car (whether I’m a driver or a passenger).
A: You are certainly not alone. Others also have reported that driving or riding in the car makes them sleepy. We recently heard from a long-distance truck driver that eating sunflower seeds helps him stay alert on 12-hour trips. The mental concentration needed to crack the shell, extract the seed and spit out the residue seems to be enough to maintain alertness. It may also help that the seeds are rich in fat and protein rather than rapidly absorbed carbohydrates.
Through the years, other readers have shared their success with sunflower seeds: “My mother wants to pass on her magic keeper-upper. Eating sunflowers in the shell while driving works like magic. The multitasking needed to consume them keeps you alert, but you need a cup to spit the shells into.”
With the increase of car travel over the summer months, you may find yourself behind the wheel for long stretches of time. How do you stay alert when driving on long road trips?
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist, and Teresa Graedon is an expert in medical anthropology and nutrition. They can be reached at peoplespharmacy @gmail.com.