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Truckers' tricks to stay awake on the road

by Mark Miller 4 min read

Sleeping trucker

If you're struggling to stay awake while driving cross-country, that is your first clue that you need some sleep. Right away.

It may sound contradictory to say a trick to stay awake is to go to sleep. But it's just too dangerous to drive while drowsy.

Don't put yourself, your passengers, and those on the road near you in danger by trying to stay awake. Pull over at the nearest convenient place and let someone else drive. Or, if you're traveling alone, take a cat nap.

Studies say sleep deprivation or fatigue and drowsiness are a factor in 30 to 40 percent of big rig crashes. [4] So it is a real concern if you make your living on the road.

An article from a forensic consulting firm states:

These statistics are not surprising considering that a survey of long-haul truck drivers reported that 66% of drivers acknowledged experiencing some level of fatigue on at least half of their trips and 65% reported symptoms of drowsiness such as yawning, feeling drowsy or sleepy, and struggling to stay alert while driving. Critically, 13% of drivers reported actually falling asleep at the wheel.

For many truckers, the fight to stay awake is a daily (or nightly) one.

You should follow the long-term tips of getting a good diet, exercising plenty, and getting on a good sleep schedule that we at Viter Energy outlined in this blog [1] to help truckers. Those three strategies, plus judicial use of caffeine, can save lives.

For some short-term tips on staying awake on the road, read on.

The importance of sleep

Of all the sites we looked at for tips truckers use to stay awake on the road, we found that most of them recommend that you take a nap or pull over for the night if you find yourself getting drowsy.

But another tip truckers give to staying awake and alert on the road is to get a full 7 to 9 hours of sleep before you set out on your trip. Or, if you are awake for a while before you begin your trip, take a 20- to 30-minute nap before you start.

And All-Trucking.com says to get the most benefit from your 8 hours of slumber, sleep on the same schedule every time you go to bed. [2]

Daytime sleepers

Some truckers drive at night. If you are one who does, check out these tips for sleeping during the daytime from Mayo Clinic [3]. Briefly:

  • Avoid stimulants before going to bed.
  • Avoid light, even from devices before bed.
  • Sleep in a quiet environment.
  • Nap late in the day, before your shift begins.
  • Do not change shift hours a lot.

Eat light, but eat well 

Many trucking sites say you should eat nutritious food high in protein, fiber, and vegetables. Junk food can give you indigestion, a brief energy burst that can quickly turn into a downturn, and long-term health problems.

The healthier you are, the longer you can stay awake on the road.

Take your vitamins

Also, take your vitamins. Viter Energy Mints [5] have not only 40 mg of caffeine, but also B vitamins for energy and nerve health.

A doctor quoted on WebMD [7] says "Your internal energy factories just don't work as well without" vitamin B12. 

And if you take the caffeine in mint form, you won't have the urge to go to the bathroom that comes with consuming 2 or 3 cups of coffee. Of course, it's good to pull over, stretch your legs, and maybe take a nap, but if you fill up with too much fluids, stopping frequently can be a problem.

Fluids is another area of concern. If you don't get enough water and become dehydrated, you can get drowsy from that, too.

Listen to interesting e-books or podcasts

If you can occupy your mind with material that keeps you interested and listening, it might help keep you alert. Contrary to urban legend, turning up the rock 'n' roll to high volume is not likely to keep you awake if you are feeling drowsy.

But many truckers report that engaging the mind with something interesting helps them stay awake. You can listen to podcasts on history, home repair, outdoor topics like hunting and hiking, business, news, crime, parenting, or anything that catches your fancy.

There is a greater variety of subjects for podcasts than for e-books because a book has to be very popular to make it to digital form. And, unlike audiobooks, podcasts are free. That said, you can get e-books from a lending library.

Take caffeine judiciously

We reported in that earlier Viter Energy Mints blog that one study found a normal amount of caffeine can save truckers' lives by keeping them awake and alert. But if you get too much caffeine,it can be counter-productive and lead to more crashes, another study found.

A good way to get your caffeine and vitamins is to take take 2 or 3 Viter Energy Mints [6] instead of a cup of coffee. The mints have the invigorating caffeine, plus vitamin B, and they freshen your breath. Plus, as we mentioned, you won't have to go to the bathroom as much.

Stay-awake myths

Many trucking sites say you should chew gum, play loud music, or keep the cab so cool that you're uncomfortable. The SleepFoundation.org says these are myths: These practices do not lessen drowsiness [5].

These “aids” are ineffective and can be dangerous to the person who is driving while feeling drowsy or sleepy. If you’re feeling tired while driving, the best thing to do is to pull off the road in a safe rest area and take a nap for 15-45 minutes. Caffeinated beverages can help overcome drowsiness for a short period of time. However, it takes about 30 minutes before the effects are felt. The best prevention for drowsy driving is a good night’s sleep the night before your trip.

This Australian video advises avoiding tricks to stay awake if you're drowsy. Just go to sleep.

It does make sense, however, to keep the cab of your truck or your car's interior at a comfortable temperature, not so warm that you get drowsy.

[1] https://www.goviter.com/blogs/viter-energy-blog/why-caffeine-helps-truckers-stay-awake
[2] https://www.alltrucking.com/faq/tips-staying-awake-truck-drivers/
[3] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/shift-work/faq-20057991
[4] https://www.robsonforensic.com/articles/asleep-at-the-wheel-sleep-deprivation-and-fatigue-in-commercial-trucking/
[5] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/myths-and-facts-about-sleep
[6] https://www.amazon.com/viterenergy/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=sl2&tag=viteener-20&linkId=e5cd86a204617e84ce90fee0ee43d8c5&language=en_US
[7] https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/prevention-15/vitamins/energy-boosting-supplements

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