How to Stay Awake While Driving: 10 Tips from Long Haul Truckers


Trucks lined up at truckstop
Pull over and rest when you’re getting tired – that’s what the truck stops are for!
Ken Bosma [Flickr]
Let’s face it; long hauls are boring after about the first 10 or 20 miles! Your tires make that humming sound against the road, which doesn’t exactly add to whatever music you are playing. Most of the scenery on long hauls is the same, especially if you’ve driven the haul before – you’ve seen all there is to see. These two potentially deadly combinations, the “white noise” of the tires and nothing visually exciting to keep your attention (unless you like road kill, and if you do, don’t tell me), contribute to road fatigue, which is what causes the peepers to droop.

“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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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11 comments. Add a comment.

  1. Chris says

    Thank you for the good tips! I always stop for a nap and I’ve stopped at times for periods of 1 hour. The energy drinks have never done anything other than make me waste money. I smack myself, push a pen against my legs or something lol. Whatever it takes to keep me away even if I look stupid!

  2. Outlaw says

    One of the best ways to stay awake is to eat lots of iceberg lettuce, especially near the root. A lack of boron causes narcolepsy. The only drawback is you will be unable to sleep until you get it out of your system. Magnesium gives the body stamina and a good source of magnesium is celery. Celery also is a diuretic so keep the bottle handy. If night driving causes you problems you must increase your intake of vitamin A. An easy source for it is a raw carrot. Walk a little (minimum of 30 minutes) daily. Coffee and cigarettes are a major source of problems in the health of a long haul trucker so if you can cut back or wean yourself you might be around for a long time. There is one thing that I learned to do before trucking and I consider it crucial to a successful and happy life; TITHE!

  3. RoadRunner says

    Seriously. If you are that tired, do yourself and the general traveling public the favour by pulling over and sleeping until you are fully awake and alert. All those tips above are great, but being fully rested and alert is the best way to fight fatigue.

  4. mike says

    Anything to stop the “highway hypnosis” works. You know. Starring at that center line for waaay too long. Pulling over and closing my eyes for 10 minutes is all it takes every so often.

  5. Frank Losos says

    In line with this article I would suggest a good vitamin supplement with A, B12, Niacin and vitamin C but without sugar. I only know what works for me although I am not a long distance trucker. Just a 70 year old guy who used to have trouble staying awake on family drives over 500 miles.

  6. Targette says

    Went on a road trip from Colorado to New York and I have to say that the crud they have at the turnpike service stations is understandably hard to stay away from but I DID start noticing that the vast majority of truckers weren’t eating it so to casually observe what others are doing to see if you pick up on something new, might be a good idea. I also picked up a postcard in one state and sent it from another when there was time to do so.

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