Car sleeping is kind of like trying to sleep on an airplane — it sort of works, but not really. You're resting, but also waking up with every bump in the road, and it's also super disorienting, since if you wake up at the end of your journey, you probably have to go do stuff. But for some people, a well-timed car nap is the next best thing to, well, an actual nap. Love it or hate it, it's a pretty common experience. But what if you can't fall asleep in the car no matter how hard you try, unlike pretty much everyone else?
Women’s Weekly Australia reports that the gentle motion of the vehicle combined with white noise means that a lot of folks find it all too easy to catch some Zzzs in the car. (This is also why children and babies are often lulled to sleep on the road.) Dr. Guy Meadows, clinical director of The Sleep School in London, told Women’s Weekly that “For some people, being a passenger in a car is an opportunity to switch off. … Having someone else driving gives them a sense that someone else is in charge, so they can relax.”
But Meadows further explained that some of us “switch off” more easily than others, so that stimuli like noise and light along the road don’t bother us when we’re trying to sleep. For others, however, we might not relax as easily in transit. We might feel like we have to help keep an eye on things for the driver, or we’re less able to tune out the inevitable bumps and changes in acceleration that come with car trips.
According to Meadows, if sleeping on the road doesn’t come easily, you might just be a more vigilant — read: anxious — traveler. And also, there’s the fact that a road trip isn't necessarily the most comfortable place to sleep. If you’re someone who prefers familiar surroundings, and you find that you’re more vigilant when your routine changes, then road trip naps may forever elude you. Or it might just be the not-so-comfortable seat thing.
Regardless, if you struggle to fall asleep on the road (and would like to change that), there are a few things you can do. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that by wearing loose, breathable clothing, taking off your shoes (or loosening the laces), and keeping your body temperature cool, you can help yourself get some sleep on road trips. You can also try some noise-canceling headphones along with your sleep mask in order to block out noise and light. Moreover, it helps to find a comfortable body position while in transit, so try to recline if you can, and make sure you get some good support for your neck — a good neck pillow might just do the trick.
While sleeping on the road isn’t ideal for everyone, with a few simple tips and tricks, you might find it a bit easier to get some rest on your next road trip.