Commercial drivers know first-hand how working an unpredictable and varied schedule leads to fatigue. But did you know that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated? If you’re awake for 18 consecutive hours, chances are you’re driving as if you have an alcohol level of 0.05… that’s just shy of being legally drunk.

It’s critically important to your safety and the safety of those around you that you fight fatigue. Yet, it can be frustrating when people say, “just get more sleep!” Trucking often makes it hard to get the recommended 8 hours of regular sleep each night. But there are ways you can help yourself stay more alert. If you find yourself battling exhaustion behind the wheel, here are 5 tips that can help keep you more awake on the roadways.

1. Avoid energy drinks (they make fatigue worse)

Many fatigued drivers will reach for energy drinks as a means for keeping themselves awake on the road. In one survey, 90% said they need caffeine to make it through a workday. And while caffeine does perk you up, and is okay in moderate doses, a single energy drink typically contains more caffeine than is recommended for an entire day. Additionally, these drinks contain other stimulants besides caffeine.

Medical studies show that prolonged, excessive use of energy drinks actually causes fatigue. They disrupt sleep patterns, increase blood pressure, and lead to dehydration. They also accelerate your adrenal functions, which leads to subsequent crashes that become harder and harder to recover from over time. So, while you may feel like these drinks give you a short-term boost of energy, they could be making your fatigue problems worse.

Do you find yourself reaching for energy drinks to stay awake?

  • Try a plain cup of black coffee, black tea, or green tea
  • Make sure you’re getting enough B and D vitamins

2. Watch what you eat

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “you are what you eat.” It’s true. Four of Healthline’s “10 reasons you’re always tired” are related to diet. Getting the right amount of protein, carbohydrates, and nutrient-rich foods goes a long way toward fighting fatigue. If you have questions about your diet, you should consult your doctor. However, here are some basics to keep in mind:

  • Calories are important: The amount of food you need each day depends on your body size and type. Pack food with you or plan your stops so that you’re getting the right amount of calories at regular intervals throughout each day.
  • Not all carbs are created equal: If you’re feeling like you want something sugary, keep a stash of apples or grapes in your cab. Carrots, celery sticks, and other easy-to-eat veggies also make great snacks. High-carb foods like donuts, candy, chips, or pastries maybe be readily available at your stops, but they can lead to blood sugar spikes and falls, which make you feel tired.
  • Protein-rich foods make great snacks: Studies show that protein fights fatigue. When you want a snack, reach for a hard-boiled egg, a handful of nuts, some roasted chicken, or even a cheese stick to give your body a boost.
  • Know your sensitivities: Many people have food sensitivities and intolerances. Some of the most common include gluten, soy, nuts, dairy, eggs, and corn. If you eat foods that cause reactions, your body has to go into overdrive, and that’s going to make you tired! If you feel you have a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance, talk to an allergy specialist.

3. Increase your water intake

Your body is mostly water, and your health depends on staying hydrated. When you don’t drink enough water, everything suffers, from your ability to think straight to your reaction speeds to your mood. Health authorities state that the average adult needs 8, 8-ounce glasses of water per day. But remember: that’s just a minimum amount.

It’s important that you drink water throughout the day to fight dehydration. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty! You can stay hydrated as you drive by having a refillable water bottle with you at all times, both on and off the roadways. And remember to always have a glass of water with each meal.

4. Get your body moving

It might seem a little backward, but one of the best ways to fight fatigue is to get some exercise. Whether you’re walking, jogging, lifting weights, or taking yoga classes, exercise gets your blood pumping, promotes better sleep, and reduces stress.

Commercial drivers might think it’s difficult to fit workouts into their schedules, but the secret is, you don’t need a gym to get some exercise. Just make a commitment to getting your heart rate up a couple of times per day. Even 15 minutes of walking, jumping jacks, push-ups, or other full-body exercises like burpees can help boost your metabolism and battle fatigue.

Remember: if you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s best to get a doctor’s advice before changing your routines. And your doctor can even help you set up an exercise plan that will fit your schedule and lifestyle.

5. Chill out

Stress is a leading factor in just about everything negative life has to offer, including fatigue. And the fact is, fatigue is a form of stress itself! Lack of sleep leads to fatigue, which stresses the body, which leads to a further lack of sleep. We said right up front that we wouldn’t tell you to “get more sleep” in this article… but we are going to tell you that it’s very important to your wellbeing that you get some rest and destress.

With your driver’s schedule, you might not be able to stop for an 8-hour nap whenever you feel like it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in some stress relief. During your breaks, try fitting in 5 to 10 minutes of meditation or some slow stretches. Even sitting for a couple of minutes and taking deep, long breaths with your eyes closed can reduce irritability, improve alertness, and help your muscles unclench. You can also listen to music you enjoy, go for a slow walk, or simply sit and chat with a friend or fellow driver.

Fight fatigue with a better work-life balance

F|Staff puts you in the driver’s seat and lets you set your course toward a better balance. With F|Staff, you get to pick routes and schedules that fit your needs. You can build a dynamic career with a variety of carriers, or choose steady and predictable routes. And with F|Staff, you can work as little or as often as you want. Use it to fill your extra hours of service, or work full time and earn benefits, including medical, dental, and paid time off.

Interested in seeing how F|Staff can help you build a more balanced career? Check us out at fstaff.com/drivers.