Experienced drivers will tell you that it’s tough to stay on top of your game during those long hauls. Let’s be honest – How many terrible songs can you crank out before you lose your voice?
How loud can you blast your radio before you blow out a speaker? And those open windows can lead to frostbite in some parts of the country.
How do truck drivers stay awake? I dug around and found all kinds of answers, and techniques but there were some that kept popping up on a regular basis that you should know about. Read on to learn four easy tips that can help you stay (and the rest of us) awake and alive on your next long run.
How Do Truck Drivers Stay Awake?
Truck drivers use a combination of techniques that include trying to have a consistent sleep schedule, eating light, exercise and staying hydrated. Other tips include listening to entertainment and taking more frequent breaks.
Quick tips for truck drivers to stay awake:
- Take more frequent breaks, even if they’re short (30 minutes or so as required)
- Stay hydrated
- Eat light, eat healthy
- Take vitamins (not caffeine pills or other products)
- Turn up the volume on the radio
- Listen to music or audiobooks and podcasts
- Open a window
Let’s be real though – there’s really no substitute for either taking more frequent breaks and/or getting real rest.
Plan enough rest
Your body needs sleep, and it’s important that you control when that happens. In addition to that you have hours of service rules to think about.
As much of a pain the fanny log rules can be, they are for everyone’s safety including yours. You just have to plan ahead as best you can and use them to your advantage, especially if you’re a truck driver that likes to drive at night.
We’ve all experienced microsleep (read more) at some point – this is when your eyes stay open while you’re rolling but your brain checks out. That’s a sign that you’re overtired and need to get into some serious sleep planning.
The need for rest is obvious, but there are right ways and wrong ways to manage your rest. Let’s look at the right ways that you can accomplish with a little planning.
- Get some rest before you hit the road so that you aren’t playing catch up later. Get a good night’s sleep before leaving and, if you’re driving at night, consider a quick nap before getting behind the wheel.
- Give yourself 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Simply relaxing after a 10-hour run won’t sufficiently recharge your body because you need real sleep. Plan your trip by noting safe, well-lighted stops where you can get some solid shut-eye.
- When you plan your trip, include stops every 2-3 hours where you can get out of your rig to stretch or, if needed, take a quick power nap.
- Establish a good sleep routine. Staying alert on the road is a critical safety issue for you and other drivers, and sticking to a regular sleep schedule will help keep you on your toes. Experienced drivers know that randomly stopping from time to time for short sleep sessions can be dangerous.
- Watch what you eat during the second half of your run. You want to rest when you’re done, so avoid caffeine and acidic foods toward the end of your run.
Your body and your rig each have to maintain proper fluid levels (more) to operate at peak efficiency.
Studies show that driving while even mildly dehydrated can be the equivalent of driving drunk. If you aren’t sufficiently hydrated, you can suffer mental fatigue, muscle cramping, heatstroke, and develop kidney stones. Water helps you digest food, regulate your body temperature, create saliva, flush toxins, and lubricate your joints.
The average male driver needs between 78 and 99 ounces of water every day. Female drivers need between 66 and 78 ounces. So, how do you stay hydrated? Here are some dos and don’ts.
Things to do
- Get a reusable water bottle. And think about one with an infuser that lets you add fruit and vegetables to the water for extra flavor and antioxidants.
- Chug 16-24 ounces of water before each planned rest stop. Your bathroom breaks will be on regular stops rather than requiring an extra stop.
- Snack on water-rich treats like cucumber, celery, watermelon, strawberries, and grapefruit.
Things not to do
- You shouldn’t eat a lot of high-sodium foods like the fast food you’ll find everywhere.
- Avoid or at least limit your caffeine intake because while it will give you a quick boost it soon wears off and eventually makes it even harder to stay awake.
- Avoid alcohol for obvious reasons and because it’s a diuretic and will contribute to dehydration. It’s also illegal while driving, so there’s that…
Keep your mind and body working
It can be difficult to keep your brain and body working during a long drive while sitting behind the wheel watching mileposts roll by. Here are four things you can do to improve your alertness:
- Develop the habit of actively and intentionally scanning. Keeping your eyes moving will help you drive safely and defensively while helping you stay awake. Create a pattern for checking your mirrors every 3-4 seconds, moving through the same progression each time.
- Add variety to your listening. It is more interesting and it helps your brain stay active when you bounce around from audiobooks to lively music to talk shows. It’s okay to crank up the volume, but not so much that you lose awareness of your surroundings.
- Get in some exercise. While 30-40 minutes a day is recommended, you’ll still benefit from regularly getting in 10-15 minutes. Even a little exercise will give you more energy and loosen you up. No excuses -Taking a brisk walk or a slow jog around the truck stop will do the trick.
- Go easy on the heat. Getting too warm can relax your muscles and lull you to sleep, so keep the temperature mildly uncomfortable.
A rule of thumb is to remember that you want your bigger meals to be breakfast and lunch. A large meal before bed can make it difficult to sleep.
You don’t have to eat poorly just because you’re on the road. Here are some easy-to-follow guidelines that will help:
It’s your most important meal of the day because it jump-starts your body. There are lots of foods that are better for you than greasy fast-food breakfast sandwiches.
- Fruits are chock full of vitamins and minerals and better for you than sugary breakfast meals.
- Peanut butter on toast and oatmeal are easy to make in your truck.
- Yogurt and granola are healthy, stick-to-your-ribs choices.
- You can find breakfast burritos and breakfast protein bars everywhere.
- It’s easy to slap together a do-it-yourself breakfast sandwich with meat and cheese on whole wheat.
Once you’re rolling it’s often hard to find a way to eat better than stopping for a fattening, greasy hamburger and fries. These carbohydrate-rich foods can later lull you to sleep. Try these ideas:
- Substitute large, fresh romaine lettuce leaves or pita bread for white bread for your sandwiches.
- Make some homemade jar salads for a healthy variety of things you enjoy.
- Pack some snacks like cheese, crackers, nuts, and some favorite meats.
- Get protein muffins with dried fruit, peanut butter, oats, or nuts.
You can reward yourself before bedding down after a long run without bulking up. Here are some dinner options that are tasty and healthy:
- Barbecue beef on pita bread with low-sodium sauce.
- Homemade chili or soup with veggies.
- Sushi wraps
- Stir-fry with low-sodium soy sauce.
- Any of the lunch options that I mentioned earlier
How do truck drivers stay awake? You use common sense by making sure that you are as aware of your body as you are of your rig.
You pay attention to the basics by taking care of your mind and body so that you can endure the rigors of the road. You get plenty of rest before and during your run. You keep your body properly fueled with the right amount and kinds of exercise, hydration, and food. And, just as importantly, you keep your mind engaged by constantly engaging your eyes and ears.
Also, don’t forget about your hours of service rules. If you plan right you can use them to your advantage, plus Uncle Sam says you have to use them.
Got a moment? Check out this article on the best mini fridges for truckers and how to meal prep with a small fridge to help you take all this food with you we just talked about.