Tired. Exhausted. Sleep-deprived. Burning the candle at both ends. Burnt out. For millions of adults, workplace fatigue is so commonplace that it’s more often viewed as an unpleasant, albeit unavoidable, symptom of managing a busy life rather than the dangerous liability it actually is. When driving is added into the equation, fatigued motorists can face a sharp uptick in on-the-road risk factors. Research shows that being awake for 17 hours has the same effect on your driving ability as a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.05 - or two alcoholic drinks in an hour. Driving after being awake for 24 hours increases this to a BAC of 0.1 - that’s more than 2 times over the legal limit.
While nothing can substitute 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, sometimes that simply isn’t an option. Read on for 5 lesser-known causes of driver fatigue and what you can do to prevent them.
- Caffeine has its limits - so limit your caffeine:
It’s tempting to reach for caffeine in lieu of water. Energy drinks are cheap, coffee is often free, and both pack a punch when you’re feeling a little drowsy. The problem with caffeine however, is that it works - until it doesn’t. Caffeine is a diuretic - meaning overconsumption leads to dehydration. Too much caffeine can also lead to insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, elevated heart rate and muscle tremors. Limit your caffeine intake to one or two cups at the beginning of your shift and switch to water for the rest of the workday.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate:
“Why would I drink water if I’m tired, when I could have coffee, which is full of caffeine?” The answer may surprise you (I know it surprised me!). Remember how we talked about caffeine being a diuretic, which leads to dehydration? Well, even mild dehydration reduces your blood volume by 2-3%. A lower-than-normal blood volume means your heart has to work harder to pump blood to your brain. Put simply, this means that by making your ticker work overtime by choosing coffee over water to keep your brain sharp and alert, you’ve just doubled down on increasing your chances of high blood pressure, heart disease and heart attack. The job of a beating heart is thirsty work, so help yours out by drinking two cups of water every hour.
This may require a bit more pre-planning on your part, especially if you drive long stretches for a living -but sitting in the same position for extended periods of time can cause muscle cramps and mental drowsiness, which contribute to overall fatigue. Do yourself a favor by taking a break every two hours to stretch your legs and get your blood moving. After all, you’ll probably need to - nature will be calling since you’ve gotten your blood back to peak performance levels with all that water you’ve been drinking!
- Take a hike!
You’re already up, so you may as well take advantage of this time and go for a stroll. We all know that we should be getting more exercise, but for some of us, especially those who drive for a living, the simple act of fitting in regular exercise can be a logistical nightmare. Until they invent an 18-wheeler that’s powered by some sort of mega-bicycle, try breaking movement up throughout the day. Go for a short walk around the truck stop if it’s safe to do so, or do some light stretching. The act of movement, however small, will revitalize you both mentally and physically, all while contributing to your overall health.
- Eat like a grown-up (and that means vegetables)
When we’re tired or dehydrated, we oftentimes find ourselves reaching for the quickest form of fuel our bodies crave in that moment - simple carbohydrates like cookies, chips, and soda.
The best way to avoid the junk food aisle? Put a little bit of planning into your meals. Even if you’re not a breakfast person, grab a protein shake or throw together a whole grain peanut butter sandwich before leaving in the morning. When sitting down for lunch or dinner, load up your plate with lots of protein and vegetables. Don’t skip the carbs, just manage them. If you like sweet potatoes or quinoa, then great, go crazy! However, if you’re like me, I’d rather have a small-ish portion of buttered noodles or mashed potatoes than ever look at another another piece of brown rice for the rest of my life. By feeding your body a healthy mix of long-lasting fuel (protein), quick burning energy (carbohydrates), fiber, vitamins, and minerals (fruits and vegetables), you’ll find that the cravings for simple carbs and junk food are a thing of the past.
The causes and effects of fatigue are wide-spread and far reaching. If you suspect a pervasive health issue, disorder, or chronic condition, the first line of defense should always be discussing these concerns with your doctor. Additionally, there is no amount of water, salads, or walks in the park that can take the place of a good night's sleep. However, by limiting caffeine, increasing water intake, getting a little bit of daily movement and eating more of the green stuff, you may find that getting those 8 hours of shut-eye in has never been easier.