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Feeling Sleepy on the Road, and Tips to Stay Safe


We’ve all had it happen. You’re riding along, it’s warm, the sun is shining, it’s late afternoon, your tummy is full from your last stop… and suddenly you’re feeling very SLEEPY…

This is absolutely one of the hardest things I deal with. When I get sleepy while riding it comes on quite suddenly and hits me like a freight train. Eyelids droop and my head starts to nod.

The head nod is enough to jolt me awake enough to find a stopping point for a drink and to shake things out a bit. But what about those times when a drink and moving around aren’t enough? I had this happen recently – and wound up pulling off the road and laying down for a few minutes in a parking lot.

You're feeling sleepy on the road - nap!
This is the actual incident. Always thankful for friends willing to snap a photo of your church-parking-lot nap!

Other than being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, being sleepy while riding is one of the most dangerous things we can do as a rider. And ADV riders out on long journeys have to deal with this more than just about anyone else. So it got me wondering what everyone else does.  I polled the WADVR gang, and here’s what we came up with – as well as some other great planning and tips to help you stay awake and travel safely.

Women ADV Riders’ tricks:

Egle said that she starts with loud music – really loud. If that doesn’t get her there, she’ll sing along with her really loud music. Thinking about the words seems to help her. Barring that, she starts dancing along on the bike to her loud music. I wouldn’t recommend this trick to novice riders, but moving your body definitely seems to help!

Elisa agreed – she also will dance on her bike. Sometimes, she says, chewing gum can keep her awake. And she makes sure to schedule in frequent jumping around breaks. Coffee breaks (yes!) and strolls can help, too. Sometimes she’ll turn on an audiobook or podcast to give her something to focus on and apparently even once dipped a gloved hand into a bag of melted chocolate… while riding. That’ll wake you up in a jiffy!

Kris is also on the loud music – sing along – dance along bandwagon. She says this is her go-to when sleepy. She’s also been known to focus on tightening and releasing one muscle group at a time. She’ll do leg lifts, tighten and relax her sides, and even give her butt a little workout in an effort to keep from snoozing.

I don’t listen to anything but the wind when I’m riding. However, I have been known to belt out songs acapella and even make up my own little tune to hum. I’ve also found that increasing my breathing rate helps. Just as breathing more slowly helps me relax, breathing a little faster perks me up a bit. My longest-standing trick is staying well hydrated and then forcing myself to wait as long as possible before using the restroom (bush, tree, and etc). It’s impossible for me to be sleepy when all I can think about is needing to go!

You're feeling very sleepy - Kris's husband naps too!
Tables can make great napping spots!

Other tried and true tricks for staying awake for your journey:

  • Plan well ahead. Take a short nap (20 minutes or less) right before you head out. Especially if it’s after a lunch break, this can help you be refreshed and ready for several more hours of riding.
  • Make the route interesting. If you’re ticking away the miles on the slab, you’re more likely to be dozy than if you’ve picked an interesting route. We all have days where we have to just grab the miles, but keep them as engaging as possible to stay alert.
  • Stay away from sugar! As tempting as it is to grab candy or chocolate at your fuel stop, this will cause your body to crash later on and induce that head-nodding haze. Make sure snacks and meals are full of healthy fuel for your ride.
  • Pull over and move! Taking even a 5-10 minute break to move and stretch can help a lot. I use some of the ‘Yoga for Bikers’ poses if I have a good spot to relax road-weary muscles and get my blood flowing again.
  • Be annoying. You’re thinking that there’s enough in this world to annoy you without including yourself, but it can really help. Whether it’s chattering your teeth, tickling the roof of your mouth with your tongue or singing the most annoying song you know, annoying yourself is a time-tested way to keep your brain active and eyelids open.
  • Avoid sleepy times. If you’re someone who is habitually sleepy at 2pm, don’t set yourself up for failure. Plan a stop around this time to refresh and/or rest.
  • Stop if needed. Worst case scenario – you’ve chattered your teeth, danced like a fool and you’re still sleepy? STOP. Find a safe place and stop for a nap. Set an alarm for 15 -20 minutes and just sleep. You might still be a little groggy but will feel much more clear-headed when you get going again. And you might be surprised how comfy spine armor makes lying down on asphalt… not that I would know. Ahem.

If you’re stuck riding in the evening to get to your next stop, do everything necessary to stay on your toes. This is the most dangerous time for riders! Dusty Wessels has some great tips in his ‘Riding in the Dark’ piece. Go check it out!

Stay awake and stay safe, friends! And remember, if worse comes to worst, apparently jamming your gloved hand into a bag full of melted chocolate will do the trick every time!

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