Blast the air conditioning. Crank the radio and sing along. Drink more coffee. It doesn’t matter which of these strategies for staying awake you employ when you get sleepy while driving—none of them is really effective. And operating any sort of vehicle, especially a large one like a vocational truck, while drowsy is dangerous. In fact, studies show it can be just as risky as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. So what are the best ways to fight fatigue behind the wheel?
Recognize when you’re tired
Sounds obvious, right? But sometimes in our hurry to get the job done, we ignore these common warning signs of fatigue:
• Excessive blinking
• Heavy eyelids
• Difficulty focusing
• Nodding head
• Weaving across lane lines
• No memory of driving the last few minutes or miles
If you or someone you’re riding with starts exhibiting these symptoms, the results could be fatal. You need to act quickly, and that means…
Get off the road
Unfortunately, cold air, loud music and other common remedies just don’t cut it when it comes to fighting drowsiness while driving. There are only two truly effective solutions: 1) pull over and take a nap or 2) if you’re lucky enough to have another person along for the ride, switch drivers. Convinced you’re too busy to take a break? Think about it another way. Losing a little time for a short nap is far better than losing a life—yours or someone else’s.
Fight future fatigue
To manage fatigue proactively, you have to know what causes it. That’s pretty simple: too little sleep, driving at times when you’d normally be asleep, and working or staying awake for very long hours. The good news is, there are some things you can do to keep fatigue at bay.
• Make sleep a priority. It’s the most obvious, but also most important, tip. Try to target at least seven hours of sleep a night. If your sleep gets cut short, try to catch a nap or two to make up for lost sleeping time.
• Make your health a priority, too. If you eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise and drink plenty of water, you’ll sleep better at night and stay more alert during the day.
• Check your medication. Are you taking anything that causes drowsiness as a side effect? Be sure to double check not just prescriptions, but also any over-the-counter remedies you take during cold, flu or allergy season.
• Be strategic with caffeine. While not a long-term solution, coffee, soda and other caffeinated drinks can help boost your energy for the short-term. Think about when you most need a pick-me-up. Maybe it’s not first thing in the morning—maybe it’s halfway through your work day instead.
• Add some variety. Doing the same work—like sitting behind the wheel all day, every day—can be exhausting. Is there anything you can do to change up your routine? If you’re the boss, can you rotate jobs among employees to help them stay fresh?
Want to learn more about managing fatigue, particularly for commercial truck drivers? Check out the resources available from the North American Fatigue Management Program. And please, stay alert and safe out there.