With 80,000 pounds barreling down the interstate at 70 mph, swarmed by cars, motorcycles, and other surprise hazards, a semi should not be in the hands of a fatigued driver. Drowsiness, frankly, makes you slower, more careless, and ultimately dangerous.
And yet, tight schedules and long drives force truckers to take the reins and risk fatigue and catastrophe all the time. Kendall Law Firm says that sleeping at the wheel is one the most frequent causes of trucking accidents. Staying alert on a long haul is not a simple matter of will. It takes superhuman strength, and no is superhuman all the time. Drive smart to keep yourself, your roads, and the public safe. Here are a few tips.
The Big One: Sleep
Obviously, the biggest piece of advice is to get enough sleep. If you’re working long days, you should be doing everything in your power to get your 8 hours a night in. Of course, this may be unrealistic, and your boss is a businessman, not a medical professional. But keep it in mind. If you truly can’t get enough sleep, at least get good sleep. Wind down before bed, keep your sugar intake low at night, and find a quiet hotel.
Pay attention to how you’re feeling. If you can feel yourself nodding off, something about it. The 15 to 20 minute “power nap” is a surprisingly effective tool for energy efficiency.
Get Some Nutrition
Eating right can increase your energy in subtle but serious ways. Harvard experts suggest that to maintain energy levels throughout the day, you should “eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of unrefined carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, with an emphasis on vegetables, whole grains, and healthy oils.” Sugary drinks, refined starches, etc. might give you a brief jolt but will drain you in the long run. And don’t forget to drink lots of water.
Finding good food on the road can of course be difficult. But most gas stations and truck stops stock fresh produce and whole-grain bread as well as donuts and beef jerky. Even replacing your hashbrowns with some mixed fruit at the diner can help.
Caffeine and energy pills like No-Doz should be used sparingly. They can be very helpful in a pinch but shouldn’t be your main power source.
Boredom is bad for energy. Bring a good collection of music, audiobooks, or podcasts with you. Meet up with other drivers at rest stops and make some conversation. Get some light exercise during breaks (though obviously not so much as to wear you out).
Just remember not to have too much fun in your off time. A hangover can devastate your attitude, leaving you weary, cranky, and dumbed down for several hours. Not the state you want to be in on the road.
Avoid This Stuff
Many classic strategies for staying alert are myths.
- Don’t count on sound. Blaring your radio or rolling down your windows might startle you briefly into wakefulness but they won’t make you a safe driver. In fact, loud music might drown out potential dangers such as sirens and other driver’s horns.
- Avoid illegal drugs. These are are also top causes of trucking accidents.
- Don’t be overconfident. No one can simply “power through” sleepless.
- Don’t over-rely on caffeine. Again, caffeine has its place. Use it carefully, usually early in the day. Drinking coffee within 8 hours of going to bed can prevent you from getting good sleep, which will cause long-term negative effects.