Avoid Slipping Into Highway Hypnosis and Stay Safe While Driving

To avoid driving hypnosis, be sure to take frequent breaks, drink some caffeine, and eat healthy on your journey.
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Highway hypnosis can be described as a trance-like state where a driver is less alert or is on "autopilot" while driving. In this state, their attention is not fully on the road—in fact, some drivers who suffer from highway hypnosis might not even remember a stretch of driving if their attention was focused elsewhere for a sustained period.
Highway hypnosis can be dangerous, as it shifts attention away from a driver’s focus on the road. This article will discuss the warning signs of highway hypnosis, why it happens, how to deal with it, and how to prevent it in the first place.
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To learn more about highway hypnosis and how to avoid it, keep reading!
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Highway hypnosis warning signs

There are several key warning signs of highway hypnosis, ranging from downright sleepiness to other physical manifestations. Here are the most common signs to look out for:
  • Sleepiness
  • Mental fog or losing concentration
  • Scattered thoughts
  • Feeling dazed or dull
  • Slower-than-normal reaction time
  • Heavy eyelids, more-than-normal blinking
  • Blank expression, glassy eyes
And here are some examples of where highway hypnosis may have occurred while you’re driving:
Missing an exit: Drivers can become transfixed by the road, lulled into a trance, and miss an exit or turn-off.
Vanishing memory: A common symptom of highway hypnosis is not being able to remember the last few miles of driving due to being in such a deep state of hypnosis. This state can be caused by fatigue, inattention, or monotony.
Drifting: When you are in a state of highway hypnosis and aren’t paying attention to the road, you may find yourself veering into the next lane or onto the rumble strip.
Key Takeaway Highway hypnosis can manifest itself in many ways, so watch out for sleepiness, loss of concentration, and heavy eyelids. If you feel these symptoms coming on, pull over and take a break.

Why highway hypnosis happens

Fatigue, brain inattentiveness, and monotony are the three biggest causes of highway hypnosis.
Fatigue: Fatigue, or sleepiness, is a major cause of highway hypnosis, as your brain processes stimuli at a much slower rate when you’re tired. The longer you’re driving, and the less stimulating the scenery, the easier it is to get tired and be lulled into a feeling of hypnosis.
Brain inattentiveness: Sometimes, when you know a route well—say, your morning commute or a drive you’ve done multiple times on I-5 from L.A. to San Diego—you become less attentive because your brain is on autopilot. Such inattention can leave you vulnerable to potential dangers while driving because your reaction time becomes slower than normal.
Monotony: A long, monotonous drive with little visual stimulation can lead to both brain inattentiveness and fatigue. The boring drive can sap your concentration and leave you feeling sluggish and less alert.
Key Takeaway Fatigue, brain inattentiveness, and monotony can all cause a driver to slip into highway hypnosis. Be sure to break up long drives with breaks and eat light meals to keep yourself awake and alert.

Dealing with highway hypnosis

You can avoid slipping into highway hypnosis by taking frequent breaks, sipping a caffeinated beverage, talking to your passengers (or yourself, if alone), and making environmental changes to your car. Remember, falling under highway hypnosis can be dangerous to yourself, your passengers, and other drivers on the road, so it is important to find ways to avoid this condition.
Take a break: You don’t need to be a road warrior all the time—if you’ve got time, make a long drive easier on yourself by taking a break about every hour or two. Pull over (ideally at a rest stop) in a safe area and get out of your car—stretch, take a walk, or do a brisk run to get your blood pumping and regain alertness. If you have time, take a quick nap.
Caffeine: Grab yourself a coffee or a tea, as caffeine will wake you up and keep you alert as you drive. Stopping for a coffee and a healthy snack is also a good way to stay alert and stave off boredom.
Talk or sing: If you’re by yourself, don’t be afraid to let loose—either by talking to yourself as you work through a problem, or making a call on a hands-free device to keep you engaged as you drive. Singing to yourself is another great way to stay alert and engaged on the road—even if you’ve got the voice of a banshee, no one will hear you!
If you’ve got passengers in the car, engage with them to stave off monotony and keep you awake and alert. Having that red state vs. blue state debate probably isn’t the best way to engage with your passengers on a long drive, but playing a game together is a great way to stay awake and have fun.
Environmental changes: If you’re starting to feel highway hypnosis creep in, but you need to keep driving, there are a few things to try. Cranking the music up or listening to talk radio or a lively podcast are good ways to keep you sharp. Rolling down the windows is also a great way to wake yourself up, even in the winter—the cold will snap you out of any drowsiness quickly.
Try to avoid using cruise control if you can. While this is a handy feature, it can lead to inattentiveness and sleepiness. Also, adjust your seat so it's upright, which will maintain good posture and keep you in a position to pay attention to the road.
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Preventing highway hypnosis

There are a few things you can do to prevent being hypnotized on the road in the first place, including taking a new route on a drive you’ve done many times, eating lightly, making a playlist, and making sure you get enough sleep.
New route: If you’re used to driving the same way on your commute, or on frequent long road trips, switch things up a bit by taking a new route. Driving through town instead of using the highway, purposefully getting off at a different exit than you normally would, or finding alternate highway routes are simple ways to shake up your drive and keep you awake.
Eat lightly: If you’re going to stop for a bite to eat, keep it light. We all know that rest stop Heart Attack Burger may be calling your name, but eating a heavy meal can lead to drowsiness, which you don’t want on the road. Eat a light meal with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and protein, and try avoiding sugar and carbs as much as possible.
Packing healthy snacks is a great way to keep you going on a long drive, too.
Make a new playlist: Livening up a drive is easy with a new playlist of music or podcasts or—just go with us on this one—both. Before you hit the road, load up on new music and download some podcasts to keep you interested and alert as you process all that new audio stimuli. It’s also a great way to stay alert as you drive.
Get enough sleep: If you’re tired, slipping into a state of highway hypnosis becomes more likely. Be sure to get enough sleep the night before you hit the road for a long drive. Try to avoid night driving, especially if you are driving in rural, dark areas with little to no visual stimuli ahead of you.
Key Takeaway Taking a new route, eating healthy, listening to music, and getting enough sleep the night before a long drive are all good ways to stave off highway hypnosis.

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Staying awake and keeping your eyes on the road are vital to staying safe—
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