Highway Hypnosis And How To Avoid It

hypnosisI’ve logged about 4,000 road miles (all solo) in the last few weeks, most of it in stunningly monotonous landscape. Fortunately, I’ve never fallen asleep at the wheel, but I’ve definitely had to pull over for a power nap on a number of occasions in the past.

What I tend to get is “highway hypnosis,” also known as driving without attention mode (DWAM), or “white line fever (I always thought that was a reference to a different kind of white line, but what do I know?).”

Highway hypnosis is a trance-like mental state brought on by the monotony of the road. In other words, you’re zoning out, and while one part of your brain is still able to operate your car, the other half is in la la land. If you’ve ever driven a stretch of highway and have no memory of it, you’ve had white line fever, baby. The important thing to take away from this is that it’s nearly as dangerous as nodding off at the wheel.

A 2009 survey conducted by the CDC cited that nearly five percent of adults had fallen asleep while driving in the past 30 days. Those are some scary statistics, as are those from a 2007 National Sleep Foundation poll that stated more than one-half of American drivers (at the time, over 100 million people) had driven while drowsy.

Thousands of people die every year due to drowsy-driving and highway hypnosis-related crashes. Some experts claim falling asleep at the wheel is more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, because you have zero reaction time. With highway hypnosis, your reaction time is so compromised, you may as well be asleep.

With Labor Day weekend looming, I thought I’d provide some tips on how to avoid highway hypnosis, and what to do if you need to pull over for some zzz’s, after the jump.roadPreventing highway hypnosis

  • Listen to music. When I’m getting tired, it has to be loud, fast, and I have specific songs to get me going.
  • Avoid driving at times you’d normally be asleep.
  • Avoid driving on a full stomach. I will attest to the dangers of this. Before driving back from Santa Fe a week ago, I devoured a final carne adovada plate – with posole and a sopapilla – to tide me over until my next New Mexican food fix. I regretted it the second I got behind the wheel, and no amount of caffeine could help.
  • Caffeine, caffeine, and more caffeine, but if it makes you want to jump out of your skin, know when to cut yourself off. An edgy, irritable driver is a danger as well.
  • Roll down the windows for some fresh air.
  • If you have a headset or Bluetooth, call someone to help keep you alert.
  • I play mental games, like testing my memory or recalling conversations.
  • Take regular breaks to stretch your legs.
  • Shift around while driving. I use cruise control so I can bend my right leg, and I also do one-armed stretches and neck stretches.
  • Keep your eyes moving to avoid zoning out. I also keep eye drops on my console because mine get dry on long drives.

energy drink
Time out

  • If you need to pull over for a power nap at dusk or after dark, don’t choose a rest area (great for pit stops, not exactly known for savory characters, even during daylight hours). Find a well-lighted, busy location, like a gas station, fast food restaurant, or large hotel parking lot if you can swing it. Personally, I avoid stopping at deserted rest areas all together.
  • Keep your cellphone charged and at the ready in case of emergency.
  • Lock all of your doors.
  • Crack a couple of windows, but no more than a few inches.
  • If you’re in the middle of nowhere and just can’t stay awake, you may have no other option than to stop at a pull-out or side road. Just try to avoid this if at all possible and drive to the next exit.
  • Be honest with yourself: if you know a nap isn’t going to cut it, suck it up and get a motel room, campsite, or sleep in your car. Being behind schedule sucks, but being dead: much worse.

[Photo credits: hypnotism, Flickr user elleinad; road, Flickr user Corey Leopold; rockstar, Flickr user wstryder]

Watch this video to learn how peppermint oil and a really bad hairstyle can help keep you alert!

How To Stay Awake Without Caffeine

Bolivia campaigns to legalize coca



Four Loko, meet Coca Colla. CNN reports that Bolivia has launched a campaign to legalize coca, a native plant that has been used for medicinal purposes and as a mild stimulant by the indigenous peoples of the Andes for thousands of years. And yes, coca does contain trace amounts of cocaine. The leaves are used in purified forms of the narcotic, which is what led the United Nations to ban coca in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs. The Bolivian government would like the ban amended to make coca a controlled, but not illegal, substance.

Coca leaf is considered saced amongst Andean peoples, and historically has been used to combat everything from altitude sickness to rheumatism (it has anaesthetic properties). The leaves are also used as a digestive aid, and to suppress hunger, thirst, and fatigue. Coca is traditionally chewed or used or as a tea, but now, coca-infused energy drinks are taking the market by storm. Las year, Coca Colla was introduced; it was such a hit that a new beverage, Coca Brynco, debuted this week.

Bolivian president Evo Morales–a former union leader for coca growers–is on a mission to convince the rest of the world of coca’s legitimate non-addictive uses. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca has embarked this week on a tour of Europe, hoping to convince EU leaders to support the campaign. The U.S. is not onboard the coca train, and filed a formal objection to legalize it on Wednesday. January 31st is the deadline for all UN members to cast their votes.Bolivia is the third largest coca producer in the world, after Colombia and Peru. If legalized, it could provide a signficant economic, uh, stimulus to the country. In addition to energy drinks, Bolivia hopes to use coca in toothpaste, and even flour (I don’t understand that one, either).

I’ve chewed coca while trekking in the Peruvian Andes, and it definitely helps ease altitude-related symptoms. Quechua porters on the Inca Trail (who are employed to haul all of the gear) chew coca incessantly. I have no doubt that, in addition to genetic adaptability, coca aids their miraculous ability to carry loads nearly equal to their body weight, at high speed, even when barefoot. It’s said that coca is what enabled the Incas to build Macchu Picchu.

There are certainly pros and cons to lifting the coca ban, but hopefully world leaders can overlook the stigma long enough to evaluate the medicinal value of the plant.

Dim Sum Dialogues in Thailand: Full Moon Party

The big night has finally arrived – a fact made tangible by the surreal moon strung up in the sky by wispy clouds.

Legend has it that the first party was held in 1985 for a crowd of 25-30 backpackers. Word of mouth spread and caused the gathering to escalate with every new month and every new full moon.

Tonight, anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 people of the world will converge on sands of Haad Rin in a few hours. For the second night in a row, the streets are teeming with young backpackers.
The buzz in the air that I felt yesterday is even more feverish. Vendors are setting up their stalls on the beach, neatly laying out rows of colorful plastic buckets that contain playful displays of drink combinations. They have crude signs that cash in on phrases that have become popular with tourists, such as “I love you long time”. There are sodas, liquor, and the infamous energy drinks that are probably illegal in most western countries; Shark, M150, and the infamous Krating Daeng.

The latter, which is marked with two red bulls charging each other, inspired the development of worldwide energy drink Red Bull when Austrian entrepreneur (and now billionaire) Dietrich Mateschitz found that it cured his jet lag on a trip to Thailand in 1982. Mateschitz partnered with Krating Daeng’s owner and in 1987 launched a reformulated, carbonated, and more sexy version of the Thai drink…but don’t be fooled – the original is still the most potent, and the better option if you plan on seeing the sun rise over Haad Rin.

Nearer to the water, more vendors assemble canvases lit by black-lights that promote colorful body art. The available paintings range from the magnificent and inspirational logo of 7-11 to more logical images like dragons, stars, and butterflies. I pass on the paintings – I’ve only brought out a few hundred baht that’s wadded in a secure pocket, because pickpockets are notorious for getting close to dancers and running off with whatever camera / passport / wallet is in reach.

Further down the beach is a section of sand that is fenced off. Signs hung on the plastic fence indicate it to be a designated “sleep area” and medical tent. A few eager partygoers have already managed to fall asleep fully clothed, with plastic buckets just out of reach and heads resting on plush pillows of sand. A necessary power-nap before the main festivities begin.

I drift closer to the music that’s slowly and steadily increasing in volume. It’s a thumping, bass-rich beat that causes my head to involuntary start bobbing. Maybe it’s the M150, maybe it’s the friendly vibe, or maybe it’s the colorful light and decorations of the various “dance stages” on the beach – either way, I have an increasing desire to dance – and in my 23 years on Earth I’ve rarely ever been known for wanting to dance. I’m momentarily distracted a bright flash of light, and I keep drifting.

I find my way to a circle of people that are gathered around a giant jump-rope. When I arrive, a few Thai men are dousing the rope with some liquid, and it’s not until I see a spark that I realize what’s about to happen. The rope ignites, and immediately the men start rotating the rope.

As it gains momentum, there are dozens of young men just steps away, eager to show their courage by jumping into the center and hopping over the now blazing obstacle. Some make it unscathed until the rope fizzles out. Others trip up, a result of one too many buckets – and are grazed by the rope, but remarkably make it out without combusting.

But these scars will only later become supporting evidence to familiar backpacker war-stories that will be told again and again to new friends in hostels around the world.

The most shocking occurrence is a naked man that dashes into the center and enjoys a few successful revolutions of the rope that are echoed by gasps and laughter from the crowd. The laughter quickly stops when the rope is accidentally caught between his legs, and he is brought to the ground, yet again (mostly) unharmed.

There are several more fire dancers close by that twirl lit poi, staff, or nunchakus. Their talent is amazing, and it occurs to me that this skill is the result of a daily dedication – it is their sole existence – spinning fire for the entertainment of wandering nomads.

A few European amateurs get into the fire spinner’s circles and perform slow, clumsy moves that make me fully appreciate the Thai performer’s talent. The Europeans assume that the clapping is for them, and so they continue to gracelessly defame the delicate practice.

Finally, the crowds have all found their way to the beach. I weave between a mass of bodies that throb in unison, connected by music and perhaps also by the journey that it took to make it to this exact moment. I dig my toes into the sand and let my limbs move freely. I’m suddenly not a bad dancer – but possibly now even a mediocre dancer. Everyone is moving together. Everyone is having a good time. The energy flows to the steady, thick beat for hours.

Finally, a husky glow begins to appear over the water. The sun rises, and the crowd dissipates. Newly united couples run down the beach hand in hand. People sleep peacefully on the sand.

The rest retreat to their bungalows, and another Full Moon Party comes to an end.

If you’ve missed the previous articles in this series, be sure to check out the entire Dim Sum Dialogues column for more on the road from Bangkok to Ko Pha Ngan.