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Carcolepsy: Why Do We Get Sleepy in Cars?

Carcolepsy: Why Do We Get Sleepy in Cars?

Thanks to for sponsoring this episode. is a team management tool that
helps you manage deadlines, connect people, and boost collaboration. ♪♪♪ If you’ve ever been on a long road trip,
you may have gotten an hour or so in only to notice you’re feeling kinda… relaxed. Tired, even. That’s not just a problem for getting to your
destination on time. According to the UK’s Royal Society for
the Prevention of Accidents, driver fatigue may contribute to around 20 percent of road
accidents. Of course, not catching all the right Z’s
the night before is one thing, but nodding off in cars seems to happen even if you’re
healthy and rested. In other words, a lot of us are prone to this
effect. And we actually don’t totally understand
why. One idea is that white noise makes us sleepy. In this case, the low drone of tires passing
over the road. And there have been a few small studies to
test that idea. For example, in a 2015 study, nineteen participants
were asked to drive on simulated roads both quiet and loud. And when they drove on the loud road, they
showed more signs of fatigue — like driving more slowly or accidentally crossing lanes. But there are a few snags. For one thing, people didn’t actually say
they felt more tired, so it’s really hard to tell whether noise was really the causal factor. Instead it might be the vibration of the car, rather than the road noise, that makes us drowsy. That’s the conclusion of a 2018 study where fifteen participants sat in a driving simulator that had been rigged up to a vibration table. Participants were asked to “drive” for
an hour at high speed while the platform either vibrated four to seven times per second, or was still. They rated how sleepy they felt before and after driving, and the researchers monitored their heart rate as a measure of drowsiness. After pretend driving for an hour, those who had been vibrating said they felt really sleepy, whereas those who got the smooth ride didn’t. And it didn’t even take that full hour for
those in the vibrating group to start showing signs of fatigue. After just fifteen minutes of driving, those
participants’ heart rate patterns indicated they were drowsy. Now I’m thinking that we need somebody to shake my bed! What the researchers think was happening was that the vibration was activating drivers’ parasympathetic nervous system which, generally
speaking, slows and relaxes the body. What’s kind of strange was that the heart
rate pattern researchers saw was actually a sign of sympathetic nervous system activation. Which, again broadly speaking, does the opposite. It’s responsible for the fight or flight
response, for example. The researchers concluded that this sympathetic activation was a sign of the body trying to compensate for the drowsiness brought on by the vibration. In other words, the vibration is making a
person sleepy, making it harder for them to drive, so the sympathetic system kicks in
to help them concentrate, which shows up in the form of changes to their heart rate. Maybe cars of the future will have some extra shock absorption to minimize all that jigglin’ so I won’t be so sleepy. But until then, at least you know to look
out for rough roads if you want to avoid carcolepsy. Also, if you’re feeling sleepy at all, go…
pull off, get some Wendy’s or something. Don’t take the risk. There are way more people behind the scenes
here at SciShow than you normally see on the screen. From writers and editors to hosts and producers,
it takes a whole team to make these videos. And it takes good tools to keep a team like this one running smoothly. That’s where things like can
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100 thoughts on “Carcolepsy: Why Do We Get Sleepy in Cars?

  1. I only get sleepy on buses and trains. It's really annoying, sometimes I just fall right asleep even if I really fight it because I hate sleeping when people are around. Never felt anything like that in a car.

  2. Driving on long straight stretches of highway make me sleepy; curvy, mountainous roads keep me awake. I think it has more to do with boredom than anything else.

  3. There's all well and good but why doesn't it happen as a passenger? If I get sleepy while I'm driving I'll switch and have someone else drive. Once I'm in the passenger seat I'm wide awake.

  4. For me, I've always felt more awake when at the wheel. Is it possible the sympathetic nervous system is activated naturally because the car is moving quickly? Maybe a study of still vs driving vs speeding car would affect this

  5. Well sometimes parents drive their kids around if the kids have a hard time getting to sleep. I know that happened to me. Plus I take meds that make me tired, so I slept for a long time when we were moving.

  6. Because people drive slow and quiet cars. That is the real reason. If your car is straight piped and has a 0 to 60 time of minimum 5 seconds then you will not get sleepy. Case closed

  7. Maybe its a confluence of things that interact (sympathetic disruption) and driving is taxing, a lot of brain power going into filtering out irrelevant stimuli that would (without technology and our adaption to such a world) be terrifying. apes don't usually travel at 70mph. Radio and white noise is like another tax on our brains ability (and therefore energy expenditure) to filter out noise we're listening for (like the honking of another car)….maybe?

  8. I've had to pull over at the end of my workday before because I my eyes just kept closing and I literally couldn't keep them open. A few minutes later I was fine.

  9. No its the light. You're inside a building for work for 8hrs with unbalanced and unnatural light. Then going into sunlight bright as day. Even while wearing sunglasses it's very apparent that your body reacts to it

  10. I also feel drowsy when I tune in to SciShow. No offence guys, it's the continuous taking and the monotonous tone of the talk even though I find the information very interesting.

  11. From an early episode of Gotham:

    "I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my dad, the bus driver.  Not screaming in pain and horror, like his passengers!"

  12. I remember one time I slept while I was driving but I caused 27 people to either parish or go to the hospital because I was like 4 or 5 lol

  13. i used to drive a lot while exhausted due to time constraints. please dont make the same mistake, i have no clue how im still alive or didnt hit anyone

  14. I have noticed this effect lately, whenever i drive to work (a road i know like the back of my hand) within the allowed speed limit i kinda switch off to auto pilot and i get the well known "blank stare" and yet somehow i get all the information from the road.

  15. I suffer really bad road hypnosis, but in my case it was light levels. I have sunlight sensitivity and it was causing me to squint all the time. I started wearing sunglasses to drive and the road hypnosis went away.

  16. We get sleepy in cars because … we are not allowed to have bullet trains and light rail. I am not even afforded a public bus service where I live. REVOLUTION! GENERAL STRIKE!

  17. You want a smoother ride to stay awake? First thing you should do is upgrade your tires. If that doesnt do it, then upgrade shocks and struts next.

  18. STOP, no not wendy's or anything other than a fruit or a something healthy, when the body starts to metabolize food you get tired. Just pull over and take a nap

  19. Sci-show: "Carcolepsy"
    Me: "Alright something that affects me!"
    Sci-show: "Rough roads make people sleepy."
    Me: "Ah… Well then, pretty sure that's not my issue."

  20. I once had been awake for straight 50 hours without sleep. I was out of food and needed to eat something before falling asleep. I drove around 7 miles and swore never to drive again when that tired unless I have no other choice. Apparently, being awake for 50 straight hours is equivalent, in effect, to being drunk.

  21. I side with Hank, I want a vibrating mattress, vibrations have always helped me sleep better. When I was younger my mum & my brothers dad would always get up around 5 or 6, pack the car and then we'd get going. it was early and we were young so by the time we woke up, we'd usually be in the next province over. I guess they also saved time & money so their children wouldn't ask for food or to pee constantly. Still happens, it's the worst when it's on a bus though. I've been late to a lot of things because I just passed out on the bus.

  22. It's definitely the vibrations. No amount of Metallica is sufficient enough to defeat the vibrations, no matter how loud, believe me I've tried.

  23. Wait… So can I make my bed vibrate to make myself fall asleep??? Kinda laughing while asking this, but I actually do want to know, because I have insomnia 😅

  24. I don’t get sleepy in cars cuz I’m not an old fart. Hurray for being in my 20s and drinking energy drinks and having adhd and imsomjia

  25. Title: Why Do We Get Sleepy in Cars?

    Video @ 0:45 "We don't actually understand why."

    Then why the heck did you make a video on the topic? lol

  26. Please, guys,… Stop embedding stupid commercials in your videos like this one both at the start, and at 3:27!

    Here's the thing, I am a YouTube premium subscriber! That means that I pay not to have to see crap like this! When you go around it, and subvert it by embedding adverts directly into the video … Well it's not fair.

    You've earned a dislike on this one for that. "" is not something that I will ever use, and even if I ever did have a need for their services, I might be inclined to hold a grudge and not use them, simply because you interrupted my YouTube premium membership experience by forcing an advert on me for them! So be aware of that.

    There must be a better way. If they want advertising….. pay for it, and advertise on ABC, NBC, CBS… FOX News, CNN, ESPN, whatever! Don't do it on here to paying members who have paid to have commercial free service.

    I am just like you Hank! I am a college-educated, master's degree level educated professional. I'm not some little kid living in Mom's basement. If there's something that I want or I need, I will seek it out on my own! And that includes this "" crap. I don't need it forced in my face. I have no interest in it whatsoever.

    I am not paying my money out to have to hear about it! I will seek out what I need. I don't want anybody putting it at me.

    This is precisely why I have given up television and have turned to YouTube for my video entertainment! If you want to give a quick shout out, or place a link and that's it… I have no problem with that. But what you're doing here is basically a commercial, and that I don't like.

  27. I travel all over the US prospecting for and mining gemstones and precious metals for use in my custom jewelry business. The best way I have found for staying awake on long drives is to frequently flex muscles in different limbs as well as abs and pectoral muscles.

  28. Me 2 minutes in. People hate going on road trips with me because I'm going to sleep soon as I buckle my seat belts. It's also how I know my kids are mine (besides the fact that they look just like me) lol.

    Whenever my babies are cranky, I put them in the car and ride around for 10-15 minutes. It never fails 😂.

  29. My mom used to take me for car rides to get me to fall asleep as a kid. I’m pretty sure that conditioned me to fall asleep in a car even easier so now I have a really hard time with any sort of long drive. Even an hour into the city is hard.

  30. I know science says this raises risk of accidents, but when I feel sleepy I call my friend to keep me awake. I figured the risk of an accident from being on the phone is worth it, if the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel is high. That or I pull over for a break, get out of the car, stretch my legs, etc.

  31. Ok, I must be the weird one. I never get tired in the car unless I have driven 6-8 hours straight. But that's more to do with endurance.
    I just thought I stayed awake because my cars have always made me feel good to drive. There are alot of boring throw-away cars out there.

  32. I’m a truck driver. Vibration on the roads actually make you sleepier now that I seen you mention this. I drive on the same interstates every night, for the past 2 years. The bumpy road I-80, gets me tired fast (unsure if it also adds to the fact that it’s a boring long road). Then I hop onto another interstate, I-94, and the pavement is brand new, they just repaved it. It’s smooth, and I feel more alert? More woken up? (Could be that there’s more traffic around that wakes me up). But I do feel more awake on smooth roads now that I think I about it

  33. Has this been replicated with a larger group? I am not doubting the findings. I do road trips to know I get tired for seemingly no reason.

    Comedy shows keep me awake, on long road trips.

  34. I have never felt asleep in my car my whole life. But now I will feel asleep whenever I will remember this video title. Thanks to you! Placebo

  35. ɪ'ᴍ ɢᴏᴏᴅ, ɪ'ᴍ ɢᴏɴɴᴀ ɢᴇᴛ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴏʟɪᴄᴇ ᴏɴ ᴍʏ ᴛᴀɪʟ ɪғ ɪ ᴘᴜʟʟ ᴏᴠᴇʀ

  36. From a driver who puts in 300-400 miles/day and 60-80hrs a week driving: CHEW… gum, chips, or whatever floats your boat. The brain is hardwired to stay awake when something is in the mouth

  37. A few good things to do while experiencing carcolepsy:
    turn the radio up, WAY up
    honk the horn at yourself
    (safely) brake check yourself
    roll down the windows
    turn on the A/C

  38. While I was cycling a lorrys sides were flapping in the wind driving past me on the dual carrageway and its belt buckles were All undone flapping to and fro He /she preceded to swerve ten feet in my direction bang bang bang on my shoulder the belts whacked I swerved off up the hill and crashed but luckily they never hooked me up and dragged me to my death , I don't know whether it was on purpose or they fell asleep but them buckles maybe actually saved me from going under it due to them hitting me first forcing me to take evasive manoeuvre

  39. When the heater is on this gets you into a comfortable state. I have this happen to me when pressure drops and temperature drops. The question needs to be where temperature and pressure changes can cause mood changes. And also I so agree that smooth non changing roads do have an impact on of you are sleepy or not.

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