How truck drivers stay awake on long overnight drives

by Mark Miller April 21, 2016

How truck drivers stay awake on long overnight drives

Truckers and others often drive long distances at night. Experts advise against this, saying you should not be driving from midnight to 6 a.m., when drowsiness is most likely to strike. (Wikimedia Commons photoby Wjmoore17)

We wanted to know how to stay awake on long overnight drives. Who would know better than a truck driver?

First we should say that experts on sleep say you should not be driving from midnight to 6 a.m., when you are more likely to become drowsy. Drowsiness is a major cause of automobile accidents.

Brett Aquila, a trucker with 15 years on the road when he founded his website Trucking Truth in 2007, has some solid advice in an article he titled “12 Tips to Help Drivers Stay Awake Longer.”

Like the National Sleep Foundation, Aquila advises taking a short nap during your trip. Aquila and the NSF both also advise getting a good stretch of sleep before setting out—seven to eight hours.

Take a nap before you take off

After the heading advising long-distance drivers to Take A Walk or Get Some Exercise is Aquila’s section Take A Nap that says:

Ok so you don’t feel like taking a walk. Then how about a thirty minute nap? Yeah I dig that idea myself. It’s amazing what an incredible difference a short nap can make. One or two short naps each day can really help keep you awake and alert for a lot longer.

Aquila has some seemingly contradictory advice. Some subheads, arranged in a funny way on his blog, state:

Avoid Large Doses of Caffeine

Get a Cup of Coffee!

Avoid Large Portions of Food

Get Something To Eat!

Turn Off The Radios

Turn Your Radio Back On!

The message is: Mix it up.

He also advises keeping the temperature cool or even chilly. He writes:

We sleep best when we’re warm and comfortable. I’ve found it’s nice in the winter cranking up the cab temperature to about 80 just to get rid of the chill in my bones. But it also makes you sleepy. Turn down the temperature in the cab. Make it pretty cool, borderline chilly at times. That will keep you a little more alert.

Pull over if you’re tired

Aquila says if you’re too tired to continue, get some sleep.

If you keep pushing on when you’re already tired you know you’re doing something incredibly dangerous. You need sleep. But I’ve also noticed that if I wait until I’m exhausted to get some sleep I don’t recover nearly as well as I do when I take more frequent naps or go to bed sooner. When you start feeling tired try to squeeze in a quick nap or go to bed early for the night. The more exhausted you are when you finally get some sleep the less alert you’re going to feel when you get up.

The National Sleep Foundation, which is directed and staffed by doctors and other health professionals, begins its article titled How To Stay Awake on the Road: Tips To Combat Drowsy Driving with advice on how to know when you’re too tired to continue and need to pull over. These tips are below here verbatim:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  • Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
  • Feeling restless and irritable

A good stretch of sleep

The foundation advises that the best way to prepare for an overnight drive is to get seven to eight hours of sleep before departure.

The National Sleep Foundation advises you take a nap before the drive if you missed some sleep. If you become drowsy but are not as far as you wanted to go before stopping for a long sleep, consider taking a short nap of about 20 minutes. Stop in a safe location. Be aware that you will probably be groggy for about 15 minutes after the nap, so wait a bit before setting off on the highway again.

The foundation also advises:

  • Driving with a partner on long trips and switch drivers every two hours or so. While the person is not driving, he can take the opportunity to have a nap, which saves time on a long trip.
  • Never drink alcohol. “Even very small amounts of alcohol will enhance drowsiness,” the article states.
  • While the title of this blog posting is How to stay awake on long overnight drives,the foundation says you shouldn’t drive between midnight and 6 a.m.—the time when sleepiness is most intense.
  • Take caffeine, whether in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks or candy. If you have a buddy, you might want to lay off the fluid caffeine and take it in solid form so you don’t have to pull over for bathroom breaks every hour. If you’re driving alone, you may want to stop frequently and stretch your legs more.

Driving drowsy is dangerous

The National Sleep Foundation explains why driving drowsy is dangerous:

Well before a person actually falls asleep while driving, lapses in attention and slowed reaction times make drowsy driving very dangerous. Driving is a complex activity that involves many small but important split decisions with every passing second. Even if you’re awake, your brain is not functioning optimally to handle these decisions. Studies show that excessive sleepiness decreases our judgment and increases risk taking.

Turning up the radio and rolling gown the window don’t work to keep a drowsy person awake, the foundation states.

The American Automobile Association advises driving when you’re normally awake. If your normal waking hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., you should drive during those hours. Take a break every 100 miles or every two hours, and don’t work all day and then drive all night.

The one take away from all these websites and article is summed up in this advice from the AAA: “Stop driving if you become sleepy; someone who is tired could fall asleep at any time – fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment and vision, causing people who are very sleepy to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk.”

Mark Miller
Mark Miller


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in The Viter Energy Mints Blog

Is caffeine an appetite suppressant?
Is caffeine an appetite suppressant?

by Tina Sendin October 22, 2018

The holidays are upon us. It’s only October but with the rate this year has gotten to the tail-end, we’ll all be wearing our favorite sweatshirts (forcibly or otherwise) and devouring the holiday away in no time.

The forward-looking you will already be starting to watch that *extra holiday weight* before the holiday even starts.

But one step at a time, right? After all, there’s a few weeks left before the celebrations and holiday parties officially kick in.

If the java lover in you has ever been curious whether caffeine can help curb the appetite, now is the perfect time to find some answers.

The word on the street is that caffeine is one of the best appetite suppressants.

Spoiler alert: researches tell us the jury’s still out on this one. 

Read More
Caffeine sensitivity: all you need to know
Caffeine sensitivity: all you need to know

by Tina Sendin October 18, 2018

Have you been drinking coffee for years and starting to feel weird sensations after a cuppa? You’ve got to know something.

If you suddenly find yourself going through unusual post-caffeine effects such as anxiety, headache, faster heartbeat and tremors, you may be experiencing a shift in how your body metabolizes caffeine.

Two words: caffeine sensitivity.

Caffeine sensitivity is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s all a matter of our body adapting to caffeine in our system.

However, if all of a sudden you start to feel things that didn’t use to happen after having your caffeine fix, then it’s time to watch that caffeine intake!

Read More
8 ways caffeine affects your concentration and mental performance
8 ways caffeine affects your concentration and mental performance

by Tina Sendin October 15, 2018

What if I tell you that aside from perking you up, caffeine can also help you concentrate and become more productive?

If, during mind-numbing, brain-wracking moments, you want to feel like Popeye going for a whole can of spinach, just reach out for the coffee-maker and you’re likely to feel the same! (For the best java experience, know when’s the best time to drink your coffee here.)

Caffeine can also help you absorb information and remember them more efficiently.

Yep! Our favorite stimulant can boost mental performance in more ways than one. Have a cuppa and you’ll find yourself retaining more information from classes and business meetings, kill it in planning and problem-solving, and finish those day-to-day tasks efficiently.

Without further ado, here are 8 ways caffeine can help us take a step closer to becoming Einstein-genius:

Read More