How Long-Haul Drivers Can Stay Awake While Driving

Though many long-haul drivers may have been lured into the industry by dreams of the open road and freedom from the stress of a 9-5 job, the job of road warrior is anything but a dream. Instead, it is filled with many different types of stress that differ greatly from those in the jobs they may have previously held.

Turning Wheels Mean Dollar Signs

One of the most stressful parts of driving long-haul is often seen plastered on t-shirts, coffee mugs and posters in truck stops across the country. Though the grammar may make some people cringe, the well-known saying “If the wheels ain’t turning, you ain’t making no money” is one that is known across all aspects of the industry. In essence, it means that anytime the truck is not moving, it is not making any money for the owner.

This leads trucking companies to come up with creative solutions, such as assigning two drivers to the same truck, each sleeping while the other is driving. It does not matter, however, if drivers are alone, or if they have a partner sleeping in the back of the rig. The long miles drive across the country can feel even longer than they really are, no matter how excited they were to begin driving a big rig for a living.

Boredom Leads to Mental Exhaustion

Current log book regulations mean that gone is the day that a driver could make his way across the country only taking cat-naps. Instead, drivers today have enforced limits on how long they can drive before they are required to take a specific length of time off-duty. There is much heated debate about whether or not the current system of hourly regulations really work out best for those who are behind the wheel, but currently they stand as law.

On average, a trucker drives anywhere between 2,000 – 3,000 miles each week. Even with enough sleep or off-duty time, the long miles put in by truck drivers can lead to a very real mental exhaustion which can, if not recognized and planned for, lead to a driver falling asleep behind the wheel. No matter if they spend those miles listening to talk radio, to music, or talking on the phone via Bluetooth headset (drivers are not permitted to hold their cell phones while they drive), the passing miles and the hypnotic hum of the tires on the road can still lead to boredom and mental exhaustion.

Tried and Trusted Tips to Avoid Falling Asleep

Thankfully, drivers are typically willing to share with each other the tips and tricks that keep them from falling asleep while driving. Following is a list of ways that have been found to work for those who are looking for better ways of staying awake.

  • Healthy Food – Though it is so tempting to indulge in fast food meals while driving, many have found that healthy meals consisting of protein and complex carbohydrates help them stay awake for much longer than foods that are full of fats, salt and sugars. Healthy snacks work as well. Instead of grabbing a candy bar, truckers who want to stay awake prefer trail mix, or a bag of almonds. Having a mini-fridge and a small cooking oven in the truck are not only convenient, they enable drivers to eat much more healthy foods overall.
  • Switch up the Listening – Drivers should change up listening selections while driving. Alternate between music, talk radio, podcasts and digital books. This way, the brain will be entertained instead of falling into a bored, sleepy slump. And if all else fails, turning up the volume to ear-splitting levels and singing along seems to work as well.
  • Cat Nap – Taking a short nap before starting on a long drive can be incredibly beneficial. In fact, studies show that a nap that is under an hour can power you enough to stay awake for many more hours than had you taken a nap that lasted for a few hours. Drivers who find themselves becoming drowsy on the road can always pull over and grab a 20-minute power nap in order to make it to the needed destination.
  • Get Out and Move – Sitting for extended periods of time can be hard on a body too. Any time drivers feel sleepiness sneaking in is a good time to find a spot for some safe exercise. This can be as little as a few laps around the truck or as extensive as some push-ups, squats and a quick jog. Getting that heart rate up means the blood will be less-sluggish upon return to the drier seat.
  • Don’t fall for Caffeine – Good hydration is very important to staying alert. Unfortunately, sodas that are readily available in every truck stop do not aid to overall hydration. Even worse is the fact that drinking too much caffeine while driving can make a driver need to find a restroom much more frequently than if they had simply stayed with water.

No matter the reason for getting into the long-haul industry, the end result is typically the same after many miles driven. Being prepared to combat sleepiness and stay wide awake, no matter how long the road ahead, should be the goal of every road warrior.

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