Stephan Brown

“Carcolepsy”: The instant feeling of being sleepy during long drives

Stephan Brown
“Carcolepsy”: The instant feeling of being sleepy during long drives

From going on road trips with my friends to taking a long Uber ride back home, I always seem to get instantly sleepy the moment the car pulls off. For many years, I assumed it was just from being tired from the day, but I discovered that this condition has a name: Carcolepsy.  

Cacolepsy is defined as “a condition where a passenger falls asleep as soon as the car starts moving.” Although, not officially a word, carcolepsy has amassed a cult following of other people wondering the same thing across online forums and message boards.

Here are 3 reasons why this happens.

Car rides can be “somewhat” relaxing.

Although car rides don’t rank very high in comfort, you get a sense of relaxation when you realize you’re not driving and that you have no obligations to stay focused 24/7.  Whether you’re sitting in the passenger seat or backseat, your only job is to sit back, relax and let the ride take you to dreamland.

Car rides are tedious and cause “highway hypnosis.’

A big scientific explanation for why people get tired after long stints of being in a car is known as “highway hypnosis.”

In “Traffic and Transport Psychology: Theory and Applications”, a book created by Geoffrey Underwood, he defines highway hypnosis as a “trance-like state that one can experience from either driving or riding in a car for a long period of time.” Although his theory focuses around the general feeling of tiredness, it has nothing to do with being physically fatigued, although the two go hand and hand.  

Repetition and high predictability are much of what goes into highway hypnosis. Repetition and high predictability are much of what goes into highway hypnosis. Since long car rides, most of the time, deals with similar factors –things like long monotonous roads, tallow and white painted lines and bright street lights – it causes are attention span to take a plunge.

Because we’re so used to seeing the same things over and over again, the entire process begins to feel almost autonomous.  Underwood explains this is what causes a state of sleepiness, not total fatigue.

Car rides maintain a consistent level of “white noise”

A big reason why cars can create a great place for people to sleep is the presence of white noise.  Colin Lecher, of Popular Science, defines white noise as “a consistent noise that comes out evenly across all hearable frequencies.” White noise is also used as a common solution to help people who suffer from sleeping problems.

What’s beneficial about white noise, for people who suffer sleeping disorders, is that it covers all distracting sounds that might wake up light sleepers. According to Lecher, “when a noise wakes you up in the night, it’s not the noise itself that wakes you up, but the sudden change or inconsistencies in noise that jar you.”

Long periods of driving constantly emits white noise. From the engine, to the sound of driving along the open road –cars create their own world full of white noise, that is the ultimate lullaby for every passenger.

Final Thoughts

To all carcolepsy sufferers, you are not alone. Millions of people every year experience this same feeling. To all the drivers, passengers now have an excuse for leaving you alone to go to dreamland. Stay cautious, stay alert and let your friends/family experience the beauty of car sleep and maybe one day, you’ll be able to be a passenger who drifts off into dreamland at the snap of the finger.