How Can You Prevent Highway Hypnosis?
You've been driving for more than an hour and have just reached the halfway point in your journey. But before you know it, your destination is just around the corner and the last few miles have been a blur.
You're fairly certain that you didn't fall asleep behind the wheel—you’re still on the road, after all—but you have no recollection.
This is an example of a phenomenon known as highway hypnosis. It's fairly common, but it can also be very dangerous.
What is Highway Hypnosis?
Highway hypnosis is a trance-like state you may enter after spending many hours on the road. It's more common over monotonous journeys, such as when you're traversing long stretches of highway, but you may also experience it during your daily commute.
Your brain can enter a similar state when you're working a monotonous job or doing chores. You’re bored. There's nothing to stimulate you, so your mind just switches to auto-pilot.
The problem with highway hypnosis is that you need to stay alert in case of an emergency. You need to be focused in case an animal/child runs in front of the car or another car swerves into you.
Highway hypnosis can happen at any time and on any stretch of road, but some of the main contributing factors are monotonous roads, tiredness, and inattention:
Your brain switches off when it starts seeing the same thing again and again. It relies less on what it actually sees and more on what it expects to see.
It's like your brain is turning on "low-battery" mode.
Tired drivers experience highway hypnosis more often. If you have been on the road for many hours, have just finished a long shift at work, or woke very early, you may experience highway hypnosis resulting from fatigue.
Also known as drowsy driving, it can be very dangerous, leading to inattention, car accidents, and fatal crashes, as well as highway hypnosis.
You are much more likely to suffer from highway hypnosis on a monotonous road, one that doesn't have a lot of stimuli or much variation.
In a 2003 study on highway hypnosis, participants were split into two groups and placed in a driving simulator.
The first group drove on a road flanked with pine trees and little else. The second group drove on a road flanked with everything from people and trees to farms and road signs.
Researchers found that the "monotonous" road was much more likely to cause driver fatigue. This fatigue peaked at around 20 minutes, suggesting that the drivers were getting acclimated to the generic scenery and tuning out.
There's not much you can do about this as a driver. If there are monotonous roads on your journey, they have to be traversed. But if you know that you have long stretches of nothingness ahead, focus more on staying awake and alert.
Is Highway Hypnosis Dangerous?
Yes! Just like drunk driving, distracted driving, and drowsy driving, highway hypnosis can impair your reaction time and lead to a serious car accident.
When you're driving in this trance-like state, you're not alert, you're not ready. If anything happens, you may not be able to react quickly enough, potentially leading to a car crash.
How to Deal with Highway Hypnosis
If you are experiencing highway hypnosis or feel that you may be at risk, pull over when you're able and take a break.
Drink some coffee to stay alert and prevent yourself from falling asleep. If you have someone with you, talk to them. If not, listen to talk radio or call a friend and talk to them using a hands-free device.
If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, turn the music up and sing along.
Rolling down the window and turning off cruise control can also help by creating additional stimuli.
How Can You Prevent Highway Hypnosis?
Prevention is the best cure. To avoid highway hypnosis happening in the first place, try these top tips:
Get Plenty of Sleep
Get a good night's sleep before any long road trips. As noted previously, highway hypnosis is more common when you're tired. So, if you have a long and boring drive you need a long and restful sleep!
Eat a Light Meal
Do you enjoy taking a nap after a big Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? You're not alone. Heavy meals can make you drowsy, so it's important to stick with light meals and snacks before you drive.
Don't skip your meals entirely, though. Lack of food can be just as detrimental as too much food.
Plan your Media Options
Being able to listen to music, talk radio, or audiobooks makes a massive difference. Plan these things in advance and make sure you have enough for the journey.
If you find that the audiobook is getting a little boring and you can't keep track, listen to some music instead. As soon as the first signs of highway hypnosis appear, turn it up!
Take a New Route
Traveling long distances on the same-old roads can lead to highway hypnosis, so try taking a different route. Choose something new, something more visually stimulating.
It might add a few more minutes to your journey, but if it prevents highway hypnosis, it'll be worth it.
FAQs About Highway Hypnosis
If you still have questions about highway hypnosis and related subjects, take a look at these frequently asked questions.
How Can We Prevent Velocitation?
Velocitation is a little different from highway hypnosis but it can be just as problematic.
If you have just come off the highway and find yourself speeding because everything seems to be moving too slowly, you're experiencing velocitation. It's a change in your perception of speed, and one that could lead to speeding and reckless driving.
Staying awake and alert can help you to avoid this phenomenon. If you have spent a long time on the highway and find that your speed keeps creeping up when you pull off, simply pull over for several minutes and relax.
Give your brain some time to rest and reset.
This is one of the reasons why it's so important to make regular stops if you're going on a long trip. It could help to prevent highway hypnosis, drowsy driving, and velocitation.
What Are the Signs of Driver Fatigue?
To prevent highway hypnosis and drowsy driving, keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Excessive yawning
- Mental fogginess
- Wandering thoughts
- Head nodding/falling asleep
- Struggling to keep your eyes on the road ahead
- Varying speeds
- Lane drifting
- Stiffness and cramping
- Impaired driving ability
- Sore or dry eyes
- Delayed reactions
Who Is Most At-Risk for Drowsy Driving?
Although you might expect older and more stressed demographics to be the highest risk group, that dubious honor actually goes to teenagers.
They are the highest risk group in general. Their inexperience means they may be more likely to get behind the wheel when tired and less likely to remain in control.
Drivers with sleep disorders, as well as those who work long hours (shift workers, medical staff, law enforcement) are also at high risk for drowsy driving.
How Do You Prevent White Line Fever?
Although white line fever sounds more like a problem for the Wall Street yuppie generation, it's actually just another term for highway hypnosis.
As noted above, you can avoid highway hypnosis by taking breaks, staying focused, and making regular changes to your choice of media.