By Brett Aquila

Truck drivers have very long days and erratic sleep schedules. Most are also getting paid by how much work they get done, whether it be by the mile, by the hour, or a percentage of what the load pays. Staying awake and alert for long periods of time is critical if you want to be a safe, productive driver. Here are some things you can do to stay awake and alert for longer periods of time.

Avoid High Contrast Lights at Night

The stark contrast between the bright lights and pitch black will make your eyes feel sleepy before long. You have the bright headlights and dashboard lights in your face but you’re sitting in a pitch black truck surrounded by pitch black night. That will wear you out. I used to drive with soft red lights to light the interior of the cab just a little at night. I also used to turn my dash lights down so they were just bright enough to see the gauges. And of course do your best to never look at the oncoming headlights but off to the side instead.

Keep Your Emotions in Check

Maybe you had a fight recently with your dispatcher. Maybe a car just cut you off a little while ago. Maybe you lost a great run. Whatever it is, you’re p*ssed off now and you’re brooding about it. All of that frustration is going to wear you out. Let it go.

Same goes with getting too excited about things. If you start singing at the top of your lungs because you were just assigned a great load you’re going to be pulling into a great rest area before long to catch a nap. Try to keep your emotions on an even keel.

Don’t Allow Yourself to Get Too Exhausted

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.

Turn the Temperature Down

Nobody ever says, “I love the winter because I sleep better when I’m freezing cold.” Heck no. 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.

Turn Off the Radios

Your CB radio, music, and talk shows can be highly entertaining, but also quite exhausting. Your mind is processing every sound it takes in. As you bombard your brain with stimuli you get more and more tired. Drive along for a while enjoying the soft hum of the engine and wheels going down the highway. You’ll feel more calm and relaxed.

Turn Your Radio Back On!

Ok the quiet gets tiresome after a while also. The endless hum of the engine and tires is relaxing, but maybe it’s putting you in a trance. Crank up some tunes, the CB radio, or a talk show for a short time and wake yourself up a little bit.

Avoid Large Doses of Caffeine

I love coffee myself. I probably wouldn’t die if I went a day without it, but who knows? I haven’t tried in years. So sip on coffee if you like but watch out for caffeine overload. You start mixing different stimulants like coffee and energy drinks you’re not only putting your health at risk but you’re going to crash hard after a while. Go easy on the caffeine and stimulants.

Get A Cup Of Coffee!

I love coffee myself. I probably wouldn’t…..oh yeah, I already told you. So go easy on the caffeine overall, but there’s no denying that caffeine gives you a nice boost once in a while. It is certainly no replacement for sleep. I think we all know that by now. But it’s a nice way to get a little pick-me-up when you’d like one.

Avoid Large Portions of Food

Again, I think we’ve all experienced the Great Thanksgiving Crash fest where you look around 30 minutes after the meal and half of your family and friends are asleep or wishing they were. A full belly makes us sleepy. Eat a lot of smaller meals throughout the day instead of a few large ones. You’ll feel better.

Get Something To Eat!

In the right amounts at the right time a snack or small meal can be a great energy booster. Overdo it and you’ll be pulling off into a rest area for a nap. But the body responds well to small meals with small snacks in between.

Take a Walk or Get Some Exercise

Yes those are two different things. Walking is not exercise; I don’t care what anyone says. You need to get your heart and lungs pumping hard as a prerequisite for exercise. But you’d be amazed at how much of a difference a five minute walk into the truck stop or rest area can make. I rarely drove more than a few hours at a time. I liked getting out frequently, even if it was only for quick bottle of water.

Take a Nap

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.

Let me be clear once again that there is no substitute for sleep. That’s not what this was about. These are ways to keep your energy levels high and give yourself a little boost when you’re not feeling as sharp as you’d like to.