Do vehicles make you sleepy?
Me too. With a road trip soon, I decided to fight back.
It gets some people worse than others.
Personally I’m useless after an hour in a car, driving or not.
Buses too, vans, trains, sometimes airplanes (but not always).
It’s just so sad when I sleep right through some nice state park I should be seeing,
or, you know, the whole state.
This time I was determined to actually remember my road trip, so did some research.
Bumpy makes you sleepy—it’s the vibrations
At first I thought it was the visual movement...
having things whooshing by must be tiring for your brain, right?
Or maybe the confined space and cushy seats?
Apparently, it’s the vibration.
People driving in a simulator get way sleepier if vibration is also used.
No vibration, no problem (much less, anyway; Zhang et al. 2018).
When I told my sister she said I was a total nerd for having to research something that was so obvious to everyone already.
Apparently it was, because Ford just made a crib that mimics car vibration.
Here it is:
Bouncing around in a car is not exactly like rocking in mom’s arms,
but apparently it’s also effective... and not just for babies!
But why does this happen? The Brain.fm connection!
Activity in the brain reflects activity in the world.
When we get bounced around, or we see flashing lights, or hear modulated sounds,
our brain responds with patterns that fit those rhythms.
These shifts in rhythmic brain activity can change neural processing unrelated to the original stimulation.
So in the end, the reason you get sleepy in cars is the same reason that rhythmic sensory stimulation can be useful in other applications, like Brain.fm music!
How to fight it
Short of altering your car’s suspension there are really just a few things you can do:
One, adjust your driving speed to minimize vibration if possible. The strength of vibration often changes in surprising ways as car speed changes, depending on the size of the little bumps in the road.
Two, drive on the smoother surface when given a choice (e.g., if picking between lanes, or roads).
This seems obvious now, but I swear, my instinct before I learned this
was that a bumpier ride would keep me awake!
In the past, I’ve chosen to take backroads thinking I would jostle myself awake.
A bumpy ride won't wake you up, it will actually make you sleepy faster!
Zhang, N., Fard, M., Bhuiyan, M. H. U., Verhagen, D., Azari, M. F., & Robinson, S. R. (2018). The effects of physical vibration on heart rate variability as a measure of drowsiness. Ergonomics, 61(9), 1259-1272.
Kevin J.P. Woods, Ph.D.