Q. I’ve read in your column that some people eat sunflower seeds to stay awake when they drive. This works, and I have proved it.
I was a researcher at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for 20 years, studying drowsy driving among other safety issues. We heard from truckers, shift workers and other people who habitually dealt with drowsiness while driving.
These folks ate a number of different things to stave off drowsiness, including sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, potato chips, lemon drops and ice cubes. An “authority” at a respected university published a widely circulated paper that stated, without any supporting research, that none of those things could possibly work.
Sunflower Seeds Worked
So when sunflower seeds worked for me, I sponsored research to compare the effects of sunflower seeds or an energy drink with an untreated control group in a driving simulator. The results showed the seeds were superior to the energy drink (which had a rebound effect with increased drowsiness after a time), though both were better than nothing.
NHTSA never published the study, but I still carry sunflower seeds with me: my cup holders have fresh seeds in one container and empty shells in the other.
A. Thank you for sharing your unpublished research. We’ve heard for years that separating sunflower seeds from their shells with the teeth and then eating them can keep drivers alert. Drivers need to be careful not to become distracted by anything they may be eating.