Live to Drive Another Day: 12 Tricks to Stay Awake on the Road

Imagine a long, empty stretch of highway without a city in sight. There’s nothing to see but endless miles of road. After a while, the empty landscape racing on either side of you becomes hypnotic. It’s late, and you’ve been driving for hours. Slowly your eyelids become heavier and heavier. Your fight against falling sleep seems like a hopeless battle.

Sound familiar?

Driving fatigue is a real issue with real consequences. Drowsy driving accounts for more than 100,000 crashes a year. Around 37% of drivers report falling asleep or nodding off while driving. According to a Gallup estimate, in the last month, 7.5 million drivers nodded off while driving.

But America runs on the wheels of semi-trucks. Overnight driving is not going to go away. In order to protect everyone on the road, you and your drivers need to know proper methods for staying awake during long, overnight drives. The following suggestions can help keep you and your drivers safe, alert, and responsible.

Prepare for the Drive

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s easier to prevent yourself from getting drowsy than it is to wake yourself up. You can prevent drowsy driving through proper preparation.

  • Consistent, significant sleep: Make sure to get at least 7 hours of sleep consistently for 3-5 days before the trip. Some drivers think that one solid night of sleep will make up for a week of restless nights, which is simply not true.
  • Condition your body: Adjust to your driving schedule before the trip if at all possible. If you have to drive overnight, start sleeping during the day and staying up at night for 3-5 days beforehand.
  • Stock your truck: Make sure to pack some easy to grab snacks. Consider creating a playlist of songs specifically designed to keep you awake on some of the longer stretches of road.

Adjust the Car

Everything from the position of the seat to the temperature in the car can affect your drive. Create an ideal driving environment in your truck.

  • Reposition your seat: Put your seat in a new position. As soon as you get used to the position and it starts to feel natural, adjust it again. The change will help to revitalize you and keep you from getting too comfortable. Of course, make sure you can still use your mirrors and drive safely.
  • Cool down: It is harder to fall asleep when you are cold. Roll down your windows for a while or turn on the air conditioning. Make sure it is cold enough to keep you awake and alert, but warm enough to still think and function properly.
  • Turn on the lights: Part of the reason it is so easy to fall asleep while driving at night is because it is dark. Consider turning on the light if you start to feel particularly drowsy.

Move Your Body

Moving around will help you stay more alert and prevent you from falling asleep. Remember to consider safety in all of your actions.

  • Stop cruising: Turn off cruise control. While it can be convenient, the physical action of applying pressure to the gas and brake pedals can help keep you awake.
  • Dance: Put on a favorite playlist and dance in your seat. Don’t go crazy—safety is important, and you shouldn’t allow yourself to get distracted. But simply swaying in your seat can help keep you more awake.
  • Eat: Eat something you can easily pop in your mouth like chips or popcorn. Eat these snacks one at a time so your arm has to keep moving. Avoid heavy foods that will make you sleepy. Stay away from high-sugar foods well—you’ll get more energy at first, but what goes up must go down. The crash is not worth the high.

Take a Break

It is important to realize when you are drowsy enough to be a danger to yourself and others. Sometimes the best choice is to take a short break.

  • Cat nap: Pull over at a rest stop or a gas station, turn off the lights and radio, and take a nap. If you are nowhere near a rest stop, find a safe place to pull over on the side of the road and take a nap.
  • Walk around: At the next exit, find a gas station, rest stop, or even a parking lot and take a quick walk around. The walk will get your blood pumping and reinvigorate you.
  • Exercise: Find a safe place to pull over, put on your hazard lights, get out of the truck, and start doing some jumping jacks. If you can do this at a rest stop, great, but you can pull over anywhere with a significant shoulder and start doing jumping jacks. Always maintain a safe distance from the road and make sure your truck is visible to drivers.

Late-night driving is sometimes a necessity, but that is no excuse to forget safety. Help keep your truck company accident-free. Teach your drivers proper methods for staying awake and alert, and make sure to follow them yourself the next time you’re on the road.