How to Stay Awake While Driving

U.S. highway fatalities are rising. Staying alert and planning ahead are to key fighting driver fatigue and staying safe while on the move.

Staying awake while driving the long haul can be torturous. It’s ironic that when you absolutely must stay awake, your truck lulls you to sleep. The gentle bump of the road, the low hum of the motor and the monotonous lines on the road can all lead to driver fatigue, especially when driving at night. Falling asleep behind the wheel isn’t just deadly for you, it’s also dangerous for those around you. Below, you’ll find some of our tips to fight driver fatigue.

What to do to stay awake while driving

Pay Attention to Signs of Fatigue

We’ve all been there – our heads nodding, eyelids struggling to stay open, breath deepening – while behind the wheel steering tons metal and cargo at double-nickel speed. Trying to push through fatigue is always the wrong move and can lead to deadly consequences. Some of the telltale signs of fatigue include:

  • Yawning repeatedly.
  • Frequent blinking.
  • Missing signs or exits
  • Drifting from your lane.
  • Feeling restless and irritable.
  • Difficulty focusing.

Commit to Regular Exercise

You know regular physical activity is important for your overall health. Working out a few times a week leads to drastic improvements in your alertness while on the road. Even 20 minutes on a bike, a quick 10-minute stretching session or lifting some weights behind the truck at a stop will produce serious day-to-day benefits in your alertness (not to mention the benefits to your overall mental and physical health).

Nap

Power naps are wonderful and can bring even the most tired driver back to life. A pre-drive nap is best, giving you energy you need to make it for the long haul. This is especially important if you were unable to get a full night’s (or day’s) sleep before you left for your drive. Your best timing for a power nap would be during a circadian dip, which can be 1 to 3 in the afternoon, or between 2am and 4am.

A mid-drive nap is often useful, as well, and won’t take much time. As soon as you detect signs you are tired, find a safe spot (such as a pickle park) to pull over and sleep. A power nap should last only 10 to 20 minutes to be most useful. Nap any longer and you might feel groggy for a long time after waking, eliminating benefits from having that nap. Studies suggest power naps of fewer than 30 minutes, even as little as six minutes, restore wakefulness and focus. Keeping your nap short ensures you don’t enter a sleep cycle without completing it. Studies show naps longer than 30 minutes can actually impair your alertness.

Your best bet is to set an alarm or timer on your phone for 30 minutes to ensure you won’t sleep too long. Once you wake from your power nap, take a short walk outside to bring you fully alert and ready to drive.

Healthy Eating

What foods actually keep you awake without eventual burn out? Eating healthy is not only good for your heart, lungs, digestion and other body systems, but it also boosts your energy. Before you leave for a long drive, don’t eat a large meal. This can sometimes prompt your body to rest. When eating for energy, you’ll want to eat small, frequent meals. This keeps your body constantly working and engaged. Eating while you are driving also keeps your mind distracted enough to stay awake. Having a small snack every hour or so will keep your body and your mind alert.

So, what should you eat? Complex carbohydrates help sustain your blood sugar and these include:

  • Green vegetables.
  • Whole-grain foods.
  • Starchy vegetables.
  • Beans, lentils, peas.

Eat your complex carbs along with protein for a complete meal/snack. Protein also helps stop the blood-sugar rise and fall you might experience after eating certain foods. Since you are driving and might not always have time to stop for a meal or snack, you’ll want easy-to-eat, handheld, finger foods. Some ideas include:

  • Granola bars, but ensure sugar is not the first ingredient and they have adequate amounts of protein.
  • Edamame, which are protein-filled soybeans, are portable and easy to eat while driving.
  • Wraps filled with hummus, turkey slices or other not-messy proteins.
  • Breakfast biscuits filled with eggs, ham, sausage or turkey.
  • Dried fruits and nuts.
  • Nut-butter sandwiches.
  • Protein shakes.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration has can reduce your alertness. What’s the best way to combat this? Getting hydrated, of course. Sip water (either hot or cold) every few minutes while driving to ensure you stay adequately hydrated. Sports drinks are not the best way to keep hydrated, as they are loaded with sugar and sometimes caffeine. If you want a change from just plain water, coconut water is all the rage, loaded with electrolytes and low in calories. While you may need to take more 10-100s, you won’t have to pull over because of tiredness.

What not to do if you want to stay awake while driving

Don’t Just Ingest Sugar Like Your 10 Year Old

Candy, pop and other sugar-laden foods will give you a “sugar rush,” but this feeling doesn’t last. Eventually, you will crash. Your energy and alertness can dip to bad levels. This means that if you ate a bag of candy while on a long-haul, you’d feel good and awake for just a few minutes and then you’d be drifting off again.

Don’t Drive at Night

This is easy enough to understand. The sun keeps you awake. Our bodies are built to be awake and alert during the day, and sleeping comfortably when it’s dark out. Driving at night may be your only option and in terms of productivity, it can definitely be a great option. Night driving means there are way less vehicles on the road to impede your progress, either cutting you off, driving too slowly, tailgating you or causing traffic jams and accidents. You can hammer down while staying safe, driving at your own pace and not having to worry about the actions of other drivers. But driving between 11pm and 6am is the worst time, due to our circadian rhythms. Our biological clocks really want us to sleep during this time, and even if we’ve slept during the day, fatigue will definitely set in. Circadian dips during the night also cause sluggish and exhausted feelings. If you can help it, plan your schedule around driving during the day.

And that’s it for now. Stay safe out there.