How to Stay Awake and Get Home Safe

Drowsiness has a globally negative impact on driver performance, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Sleepiness is a result of lack of rest and slows reaction time, decreases situational awareness, and impairs judgment.

NHTSA reported that about 100,000 crashes and 1800 deaths in the U.S. result each year from fatigued drivers of commercial trucks.

The attorneys at HurtTrucker.com know how important it is to maintain a deadline, while recognizing the most important part of a trucker’s job is to arrive home safely after the long haul.

The National Sleep Foundation compiled practical tips to prevent driver fatigue and drowsiness:

 Set a consistent sleep cycle: Consistency can help when getting “more” sleep is not an option.  Sleep experts recommend at least eight hours of sleep a night in order to function properly. Try to sleep at the same time each day.

 Maintain a regular exercise schedule: Any activity on a consistent basis should help.

 Eat a healthy, balanced diet: Life on the road makes it difficult to maintain a well-rounded diet, but a healthy, balanced diet has been shown to improve the quality of sleep.

Recognize warning signs: Drifting or weaving in your lane, tailgating, missing your exit, head nodding, excessive yawning, or rubbing of eyes.   Take a break if you experience wandering or disconnected thoughts, yawn repeatedly, have difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open, or find yourself missing traffic signs or tailgating other drivers.

Minimize caffeine and nicotine consumption before bedtime: While easier said than done, the reason is it can take up to 6 hours to get caffeine out of your bloodstream.  Any of these substances before bedtime can affect how you rest.

 Pull over (in a safe area) for a short nap and then take a walk to stretch and wake up.  On longer trips, schedule a break (in a safe area) every two hours or every 100 miles, and stop sooner if you show any signs of sleepiness.

 Avoid caffeine. Caffeine is not a miracle stimulant able to help us perform better for longer. In reality, coffee is an adrenal stimulant. Adrenal fatigue is often a result of chronic stress, such as what a person experiences when maneuvering an 80,000-pound vehicle across long distances among a variety of hazards. When the body has used all the cortisol in our adrenal glands, it tells us to rest. Coffee is essentially an override button to that command. Pushing the body past its limits is not healthy, especially when a person uses an outside stimulant, such as coffee, to do so. The body will not perform as well with artificial stimulants as it will with nature’s best booster: sleep.

 If possible, drive during the time of the day when you are normally awake if you’re planning on driving a long distance.

 It’s not always possible to take all the preventative measures prior to a long haul, so HurtTrucker.com has compiled a list of additional tips that can be utilized on the spot to stay awake. It is important to recognize that nothing but rest/sleep will prevent fatigue-related accidents. Any other tactic is simply an initial measure for truckers who are finding the fatigue only mildly distracting or to maintain a trucker until he/she can find a safe place to stop. A trucker who is experiencing a level of tiredness they find impossible to overcome or who is experiencing any impairment must pull over as soon as possible and sleep.

 Tip: Open the window. This is more effective when it is colder outside the vehicle than inside. The cool or cold air will shock your senses, giving you a jolt, as well as refresh you. Take deep breaths of the breeze, flooding your brain with the oxygen it needs to function.

 Tip: Pull over and get exercise. If fresh breezes didn’t get you enough oxygen, pull over and do some quick exercises. Running around the truck, jumping jacks and anything that accelerates your heart rate will revitalize you and keep you awake. As a rule, if it is safe enough for you to pull over and exercise, it is safe enough to sleep, and you should rest until you are no longer too fatigued to drive.

 Tip: Keep your taste buds awake, keep yourself awake. Some people find that eating something tart or tangy can wake up the taste buds and, thus, the mind. Eating a fruit like an apple or orange or even sucking on a lemon is beneficial. For those who want something less messy, hard lemon-flavored candies may do the trick.

 Tip: Listen to music. Some experts say to listen to music you dislike. Listening to your favorite music, especially if it’s familiar/soothing and rhythmic, can lull you into a feeling of comfort, which may encourage sleep. Louder volume may help as well, although the brain adapts well to sound and can even tune out very loud music. Studies have shown that music with a high frequency (fast beat) is the most effective. Familiar music may have its benefits too, as singing to music requires use of your facial and abdominal (try deep diaphragm breathing while you belt out the tunes) muscles, and entertains your mind.

 The ultimate goal is to give your body what it truly needs, especially if that is sleep.

For more information from the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration go to:

http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812183.pdf