Smoking a cigarette, rolling down the windows, talking on the CB radio, listening to “Life is a Highway” at full volume….
These are all things I’ve personally heard drivers say they do to stay awake while driving.
And as a driver, feeling tired and not fully alert behind the wheel is scary. You’re driving an 80,000-pound truck; if something happens, your life or another person’s could be affected.
When you look at research, 34% of drivers have nodded off while driving. That’s crazy to hear, but when you think about it, I understand why it’s so high. There are many different factors that go into it – such as working shifts, your changing schedule, stress, and the truck not being the most luxurious sleeping arrangement.
Another study followed a group of drivers around and found that their average measured sleep duration was over 2.5 hours shorter in the truck (6.0 to 6.2 hours) compared to at home (8.8 to 8.9 hours).
I get it. You’re in a really tough position as a driver when it comes to sleeping, and your sleep health is a topic that is way too big to be covered in just one article. Today I am going to focus on one aspect – the best strategy to combat sleepiness and fatigue behind the wheel.
If you talk to enough drivers, you’re going to start to hear some crazy strategies on how they stay awake behind the wheel…
And I’m not saying I don’t like Rascal Flatts (who doesn’t sing along when Life is a Highway comes on), but what I am saying is that there has to be a better option to help drivers stay alert behind the wheel. [Editors note: Tom Cochrane’s original version of Life is a Highway is superior]
And if you look at the research, caffeine might be that answer!
To start, it’s well-researched that caffeine can reduce sleepiness and improve performance in different tasks.
One study found that drivers who used caffeine were 63% less likely to crash than those who didn’t.
The UK government went as far as to tell truck drivers in 2018 that “the most effective ways to counter sleepiness are to drink caffeinated drinks, like coffee, and take a short 15+ minute nap.”
Another study reported a 6% reduction in safety-critical events for each 8 ounces of caffeinated beverages consumed.
And I know what you’re thinking, 100% divided by 6%….??? Should I just be chugging coffee all day?
The answer is probably not. And here’s why:
A study compared professional drivers who drank high amounts (>5) of caffeinated drinks per day versus drivers who drank low amounts (1) per day. They found that the drivers who drank over 5 per day were at a higher risk of being involved in a crash compared to those who drank lower amounts of caffeine. The higher risk of crashes was due to those drivers’ shorter sleep duration, irregular sleep schedules and higher association with poor health behaviors.
On top of that, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is not associated with any dangerous or negative effects, but they would recommend that amount be your ceiling for how much you consume per day. An average cup of coffee has 95 milligrams of caffeine in it!
So, you understand that caffeine can be helpful to combat sleepiness, but what guidelines should you follow?
Here’s your cheat sheet for maximizing the effects of caffeine on the road:
- Drink one to five low-calorie caffeinated drinks per day while driving. Yes, low-calorie. So stay away from adding a ton of sugar or sugary creamers to your coffee. I would recommend a zero calorie sweetener such as stevia and non-fat or low-fat milk/creamer.
- Stop drinking caffeine three to seven hours prior to your planned bedtime.
- Between each caffeinated drink, drink a zero- or low-calorie non-caffeinated beverage
- Exercise on a consistent basis
- Maximize your sleeping routine.
- Sleep, Dietary, and Exercise Behavioral Clusters Among Truck Drivers with Obesity by Olsen et al
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
- Precision Nutrition
- Associations between high caffeine consumption, driving safety indicators, T sleep and health behaviors in truck drivers by Filtness et al
- The Effects of Caffeine Use on Driving Safety Among Truck Drivers Who Are Habitual Caffeine Users by Heaton & Griffin
- United Kingdom Highway Code by The United Kingdom Government
- Use of caffeinated substances and risk of crashes in long distance drivers of commercial vehicles: case-control study by Sherwood et al
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025