September 3

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11 Tips for Long Haul Truck Drivers to Stay Awake and Alert

By lruribe

September 3, 2021


Driving a long-haul truck route can be a long and monotonous task that can weigh on even the most disciplined minds. That's why when it comes to how truck drivers stay awake, it's important to have a plan ready, especially when other people's safety is on the line. 

Truck drivers work in 10-12 hour shifts, and it's vital to be alert on the job at all times. To stay awake while driving, here are some of the helpful tips truck drivers I know follow:

  1. Start fresh
  2. Avoid large amounts of caffeine
  3. Avoid medications that can make you drowsy
  4. Take vitamins for energy support
  5. Eat smaller portions of healthy meals
  6. Stay hydrated
  7. Take planned breaks
  8. Reduce your alcohol intake
  9. Get some fresh air
  10. Listen to something funny or entertaining
  11. Avoid highway hypnosis

I know it's easier said than done. That is why we'll look into each tip in detail and give you additional helpful steps to execute each of these 11 tips successfully.

Gentle Stretches To Relieve Stiffness From Driving

How Can I Stop Falling Asleep on a Long Drive?

Staying awake is one of the toughest parts of being a truck driver. And with long haul drives, the difficulty level even becomes double. By incorporating these 11 tested tips on your routine, not falling asleep on a long drive would be a breeze moving forward.


1. Start Fresh

Just like any job, as a driver, you need a good night's sleep before you put in a long day's work. The amount of sleep required in order to feel alert and refreshed will vary between drivers.

Drowsiness is one of the leading causes of accidents involving tractor-trailers. In fact, the CDC suggests that driving tired can have the same effect as driving intoxicated.

Most doctors recommend a full 7-8 hours of sleep per night, but despite this, 1 in 3 drivers admit to getting under 7 hours per night.

According to a sleep study done by the Sleep Research Society and the Department of Transportation, drivers who get under 7 hours of sleep are responsible for an estimated 7% of all motor vehicle crashes every year. That comes out to roughly 330,000 sleep-related accidents and 16% of fatal crashes.

To make sure you can get a full 7-8 hours of sleep every night, you'll need to come up with a consistent schedule you can stick to. I know things happen... traffic, shippers & receivers run late, and things don't always go to plan while driving a truck. So, here are some tips to help you increase your chances of getting good sleep:

  • Avoid phones and computers at least 45 minutes before bedtime.
  • Try not to do any stressful work before bed.
  • Separate your workspace from your sleep space. If you don't have a desk, try to do your important work like billing and maintenance at a rest stop.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages after 12:00 pm.

And this brings us to our next tip...


2. Avoid Large Amounts of Caffeine

Truck drivers, warehouse workers, and even the US military all use caffeine to enhance mental alertness. When used correctly, it can give you an extra burst of energy and help you power through a long drive.

Consumed the conventional way, you might find yourself downing an extra-large coffee. Soon to follow is a surge of energy and "coffee jitters", which will end with a big crash by mid-day. Not the best scenario when you're on the road from morning into the early night.

Instead, science has discovered the best way to consume caffeine to ensure optimal alertness and sustained energy throughout the day.

A study done by the Journal of Sleep Research suggests that the best way to consume caffeine is in smaller micro-doses throughout the day. In other words, rather than one large cup when you wake up, having 3 smaller cups of coffee throughout the day will have a lasting effect on keeping you awake and alert.


3. Avoid Medications That Can Make You Drowsy

Some medications can get you fatigued after you take them. And I am not even talking about sleeping pills. Common examples of these medications include antihistamines, cancer treatment, blood pressure medications, opioid medications, and many more.

Depending on how potent these medications are and how long you take them, the drowsiness can last for hours or days.

But you are probably using the medications for some health conditions. So, I won't ask you to stop using your medications.

Instead, ask your doctor if there are alternatives to your sleep-inducing medications. If your doctor does not prescribe an alternative, they may reduce your dose or ask you to take the medications when they are unlikely to affect your truck driving. 

In addition to those, taking deep breaths while driving could help keep sleep at bay. Quick exercises and stretches do the trick as well. And if you have to, you may resort to caffeine. But make sure you take it as described in the previous point above.


4. Take Vitamins for Energy Support

Vitamins may not be the first thing you look for when you need to stay awake, but they can get the job done. Depending on who you ask, people usually have varying perceptions of how vitamins affect their sleep.

In fact, there wasn't much notable scientific evidence that expounds on the effects of vitamins on sleep until the Journal of Sleep Medicine published a study that was carried out on over 700 volunteers. The aim: discovering the connection (if there is) between vitamins and sleep.

After the study, the researchers found out that volunteers who took multiple single vitamins or multivitamin supplements slept more poorly than those who didn't. Although they suggested some possible causes, the researchers weren't exactly sure of the reason. 

Another thing certain vitamins do in your body is to make you feel less fatigued. For instance, vitamin B6 is pivotal in helping your body extract glucose from the food you eat. Your body uses this glucose for energy.

A particular publication by the National Institute of Health mentioned how insufficient vitamin B12 could increase your chances of losing weight, getting weak, or being fatigued.

All that being said, here's the bottom line. Vitamin B12 and B6 make you feel less tired. Multivitamins give you poor sleep. So, you want to stay awake while driving?

Have yourself some vitamins. Be careful, however, to use it correctly. An overdose could do more damage than taking your sleep away.


5. Eat Smaller Portions of Healthy Meals

Overeating causes you to feel tired and sleepy. This happens when your stomach is full, and your body releases a bunch of hormones that induce sleep.

Some types of food could also tire you after you eat them. Foods rich in carbohydrates and protein are especially guilty of this.

Eating your food in smaller portions or snacking at intervals of a few hours can help you deal with sleepiness after meals. Taking a break from work to do something active after lunch also prevents drowsiness from setting in.


6. Stay Hydrated

Fatigue and dehydration go hand in hand. The former is a symptom of the latter. So, if you constantly battle the urge to sleep when you are behind the wheels of the truck, maybe you have not had enough water.

About 60% of your body weight is water. But your body constantly loses your water content through urine, sweat, and your breathing. 

Not replenishing your water supply gets your body tired, as it tries to function with less water than it normally should. When this happens, you feel tired and without energy. 

Apart from fatigue, a study points out that other effects of dehydration on your physical performance include low endurance and motivation and "increased perceived effort." 

The solution to these effects is to constantly stay hydrated. In fact, it is better that you take a lot of water. Although this might force you to take more restroom breaks than you normally would, you'll soon find that even this helps keep you awake on your long-haul truck driving.


7. Take Planned Breaks

Sitting on a spot for long could also be responsible for the endless assault you get from sleep as you drive.

Taking a break to step out of the cab keeps you from sleeping. You could use this time to check your truck to see if everything looks good. You could also use the restroom at every break if you followed our tip on staying hydrated.

The short walk could also serve as a quick exercise that gives your brain a well-deserved mental break, gets your blood flowing, and keeps your mind alert.


8. Reduce Your Alcohol Intake

Suffice to say, you should not drive intoxicated. But just as important is not taking too much alcohol before you sleep at night.

Although alcohol has sedative effects, a study explains that it prevents you from entering the rapid eye movement (REM) stage.

The REM stage sets in about 90 minutes after you fall asleep, and it is what holds the restorative effect of sleep. You then wake up in no suitable condition for driving a truck or even riding a bike: tired and still hungover.

Low doses of alcohol intake, however, are not likely to affect your sleep. So, if you must take alcohol before you sleep, go easy on it.


9. Get Some Fresh Air

Seeing as I struggle to get a scientific study to back this up, I can only ask you to trust my experience on this. Open your window and let the breeze in when you find yourself struggling with sleep as you drive your truck.

You don't have to keep this up for too long. In fact, you could catch a cold if you did. But the blast of cool breeze should be enough to keep you awake for a while.

However, you can ignore this tip if you have an underlying health condition or if you're very sensitive to cold. And if you must use this tip, make sure it's warm outside and the breeze is not cold. You can also talk to your doctor about it.


10. Listen to Something Funny or Entertaining

Listening to something funny or entertaining keeps your mind occupied. And when you're laughing out, your facial muscles are also busy. You become alert, and sleep stays away.

You could also entertain yourself by playing your favorite songs, preferably upbeat ones. Sing along at the top of your voice (you're the only one in the truck, remember?). 

Another thing you could do to keep yourself entertained is listening to an audiobook while you drive. There is only one thing you should be wary of here: Books that bore you to death. 

When you do something you enjoy or find entertaining, your mind stays alert. Just make sure whatever means you're entertaining yourself with is not distracting you from your driving. You want to always have your eyes and your mind on the road.


11. Avoid "Highway Hypnosis"

Are there times when you don't recall what happened in the last several minutes while you were driving? You don't know if you stopped at red lights, obeyed the speed limit, or even used your trafficator at turns. You know you didn't fall asleep, but you weren't conscious either. This is a typical example of road hypnosis.

A study explains that driving on an empty or monotonous road could cause highway hypnosis. Another study linked the oculomotor system with highway hypnosis.

This kind of highway hypnosis often happens when you're driving on a road you know well. Your brain no longer makes decisions based on what you're seeing. Instead, it works based on what it expects you to see. And because you know the road so well, your brain is mostly right.

Avoid highway hypnosis because it could make you feel sleepy, cause you to lose concentration, and slow down your reaction time. 

Try talking or singing, taking short breaks, eating light, healthy snacks while you drive, and staying hydrated. Taking a different route from the one you're familiar with could also be helpful.

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What If You Need To Take A Driving Break?

There are times when all the tips we've mentioned here would not help you significantly.

A good example is when you need to take a break from truck driving. In situations like this, you could request a leave from work.

Take the time to do other things that you love and take your mind off truck driving. And when you return to work, you'll feel as good as new.


Summary

Don't give in to sleep when you're driving a long-haul truck route, no matter how tempting it is.

You would endanger your life, your freight, and the lives and properties of others driving on the same road as you.

Instead, try entertaining yourself while you drive and maintain an all-around healthy habit of staying awake while driving.

About the author

Iā€™m Luis Uribe, author of this website. I am the owner and head publisher for Trucker Daily and a freight brokerage Total Connection Logistics. I have been in and around the trucking industry for over 15 years. It is my mission with Trucker daily to equip truck drivers, with the latest in industry updates, news, and helpful tips to help further your trucking career and life. Whether you are a truck driving veteran, or beginner, you will find information on this site to save you a lot of time in your driving journey.

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