Photo: From Christopher Boswell/Shutterstock

Truckers Offer 7 Tips for Staying Alert During Long Drives (That Are All Completely Legal)

Wellness Road Trips
by Matthew Meltzer May 9, 2019

Don’t look now (especially if you’re driving) but we’re hurtling headlong into road-trip season. Family vacations, warm-weather highway adventures, and drives across the country with your dog for a summer job put us on the road for longer hours than we are the rest of the year. Which means marathon driving sessions many of us aren’t used to.

But you know who is used to driving for ungodly amounts of time? Truck drivers. So it reasons they’d be the right people to ask for tips for staying awake during long drives. We huddled with our 18-wheeling friends at Commercial Truck Trader, and they offered up these seven suggestions for keeping alert on the road.

1. Make your car as cold as possible.

Are you one of those people who wears three sweaters to the office because you’re always cold? Well, you’re gonna hate long drives because keeping yourself on the verge of hypothermia (figuratively) is generally the best way to make sure you don’t start nodding off. If you’re driving through somewhere chilly, roll down the windows and let the arctic breeze pry your eyes open. Driving through somewhere with warm, soothing nights? Crank that AC like it’s a movie theater in Florida.

There’s a reason correctional facilities keep their temperatures below 65 degrees, and it’s not because they’re concerned about anyone overheating. It’s because it’s uncomfortable and sleep-depriving to keep things cold. Unpleasant? Yes. But it will keep you alive.

2. Sing along with the radio.

There is a time and a place to grace the world with your almost-perfect rendition of “thank u, next.” Any public gathering is not one of them. The front seat of your car on a long drive, however, absolutely is. Singing along to Ariana Grande, or Kenny Loggins, or Lil Uzi Vert, or whoever’s lyrics you know by heart will keep your brain awake and alert. Though if you can actually figure out any Lil Uzi Vert lyrics your brain is probably on another level than anyone else’s.

3. Talk to someone.

You know that six-year-old niece in Sacramento you really oughta chat with more often? No better time than a long drive to try and have a conversation with a first-grader. Or anyone, really, who you haven’t caught up with in a while. Just make sure you don’t call anyone who works in real estate or insurance because that will put you to sleep faster than a hot toddy.

Of course, you should be using Bluetooth or some other hands-free device. And drive in the slow lane as talking slows your speed whether you’re holding the phone or not. If you want to make things real entertaining, get yourself a CB radio and listen to the radar love over the airwaves. Then try using some trucker slang yourself.

If you wanna get real crazy, invite someone to tag along for the ride. Just make sure they don’t sleep. And make sure you don’t combine this with Tip #2. They have no interest in hearing your Whitesnake covers either.

4. Keep plenty of ice on hand.

When truckers tell you ice helps them stay awake, it’s generally a good idea to get some clarification. In this case, though, they mean keeping a cooler packed with cubes of frozen water in your passenger seat, along with cold bottles of water. Again, going back to Tip #1, anything cold helps keep you awake. And the water keeps you hydrated.

Resist the temptation, however, to pack the cooler with stuff like sports drinks or, even worse, energy drinks. Sports drinks serve the double whammy of ramping you up on sugar, leading to an inevitable mid-drive sugar crash, and giving your body a ton of simple calories to break down while you’re sitting still for hours. The caffeine and other stimulants in energy drinks ramp you up even harder than sugar, which as anyone who’s ever overdone it on stimulants knows, makes you crash EVEN HARDER. So forego the short-term gain and stick to water.

5. Use a cold towel.

Somewhere in that cooler, wrap a few washcloths in ice and keep them handy. Then you can pull them out to cool off, making your front seat your own little version of the business class cabin on a domestic flight. No, there won’t be any flight attendants or on-demand seasons of “Veep.” But, as we’ve now told you three times, keeping cold is the best way to stay awake.

6. Take short breaks.

Though your dad may have drilled the importance of making excellent time into your head, it is, in fact, secondary to making safe time. And in the case of long, tedious drives taking frequent stops can keep you from slipping into a road trance. Try making a game of it, like seeing how many different Taco Bells you can stop at on I-70. Or comparing gas station coffees in North Central Florida. Or doing pretty much anything at a Cracker Barrel.

When you do stop, don’t just get up and use the bathroom either. Interact with anyone you see: cashiers, fellow motorists, lot lizards, whatever. The brain activity used in communication will energize you more and will 100 percent give you some fantastic road stories.

7. Go to sleep.

If you found yourself doing the highway head bob more than once, it’s time to take a break. If you take that break, get in your car, and go right back to open-mouthed drooling, it’s time to call it a night. If you can, shell out the 50 bucks for a roadside motel so you can get a solid night’s sleep, and carry on when you’re refreshed. If that’s not an option, pull over in a rest stop or Walmart parking lot and get some Zs there. Again, making time might be important. Getting there in one piece, however, is still the priority.

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