“No problem,” you think. “I’ll pull over and grab something to help me stay awake!” And, sure enough, when you walk into your favorite truck stop there are all kinds of energy and sugary products promising they provide the best way to stay awake while driving. But time and testing have shown that these quick fixes not only pose a health risk, but also make you even more tired than you were before once the effects wear off. Come on! You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all downed a large bag of M&Ms trying to keep alert behind the wheel, only to crash and burn once we’re over the sugar high.
So, what do you do? You’ve got a long-haul assignment – nice! – and you know you’re going to get tired. Some experienced truckers have some tried-and-true methods to stay alert while traveling thousands of miles for hours on end. These tips to stay awake while drivin) have helped truckers keep it safe, because aside from bad weather, driving when you’re sleepy is just about the next best way to cause an accident.
- Cat-nap before getting on the road. Studies have shown that even if you sleep for less than an hour, your body receives crucial rest it needs to help you stay awake into the night. Pull over and take 20-minute power-naps while en route when you need them as well. Don’t try and fight your fatigue to save time; you might end up hurting others and yourself.
- Eat a healthy meal after your pre-route nap. I know, I know! Grabbing that fast food when hitting the road is convenient, but the fat, salt and sugar makes you tired. Energy food consists of complex carbohydrates and protein, which will give you long-lasting stamina. Eat whole grains – 100 percent ones, not the “contains whole grains” things – lean meats, fruits, veggies … the good stuff! These foods will help keep you awake on your route.
- Listen to your mom and take your vitamins. Certain vitamins, like B’s and C’s, give you energy. Just make sure to take them with your healthy meal, or your body won’t absorb them and you won’t realize their full benefits.
- Move when you get tired. Pull over, get out of your cab and stretch your legs. You’re sitting for extended periods of time and you need to move around to keep your blood flowing; this keeps your energy up. Heck! Keep the authorities happy at the same time by using a quick truck and trailer inspection as your excuse to stop driving for a second. A walk around your rig should perk you up.
- Crank up the volume of your music if necessary. Music affects your mood which, in turn, affects your fatigue level. If you’re feeling a little sleepy or even down, listen to some lively music that you can sing along with. Who cares if you can’t carry a tune? Only you and your rig can hear you!
- Keep snacking even though you ate a meal your mom would be proud of before you hit the road. Make sure your snacks are healthy, though. Remember the M&Ms? Sure, they taste better than a piece of fruit, but you don’t want to ride that sugar rollercoaster when driving long haul. Snack on something healthy instead, like a bag of almonds.
- Listen to an audio book – just don’t make it War and Peace! Keeping your mind occupied will help you stay awake. Maybe you like to pump your adrenaline with a scary novel, or suspense is your gig. Whatever you’re into, once you get tired of singing, pop in an audio book and listen to someone else’s voice for a while.
- Do annoying things to yourself. Okay, I know, you’re thinking, “are you serious?” Yes, I am. Rub the roof of your mouth with your tongue, pinch your ear lobes or your arm or leg, smack or tickle yourself, whatever it takes to chase away the sleepiness. Don’t hurt yourself, of course. Just do something that will irritate you out of your sleepy state.
- Open your windows and let the oxygen flow! This works particularly well if it’s toasty warm in your cab and cold outside. Like diving into cold water, cold air gives your system a temporary jolt, shocking your sense into alertness. Careful, though, this – and irritating yourself – only works temporarily, so you want to pull over at your next rest stop and take that power-nap.
- Keep yourself hydrated and avoid caffeine. Again, I know you’re thinking, “are you serious?” Yes, if you drink tons of water you’ll have to stop every 10 seconds to pee – I get that. However, you can’t let yourself dehydrate, either. Dehydration is an immediate fatigue-causer, and don’t load up on coffee. Not only will the caffeine in coffee wear off, but caffeine is also a diuretic, which will make you pee more than the water you should be drinking and increase your dehydration.
These are just 10 ways to stay awake while driving. There are many others, but the best solution is to always make sure you get your proper winks, because you can’t replace your need for actual sleep. The feds – you know ‘em – the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has some pretty strict rules on how much you can drive in a day to avoid driver’s fatigue and accidents. Sure, you know you can handle more, but keep in mind safety is worth one heck of a lot more than pushing yourself just to make good time. After all, if you get into an accident, you’ll face losing the load you were tasked to protect, hearing it from your boss – ugh! – and, well I don’t even want to say it, but possibly something worse like your license or your life. Keep it safe, my friends, and avoid fatigue when you’re on the long haul.