Caffeine and the Professional Driver: Friend or Foe

By Eric Braun, Senior Writer, USRW

You’re driving down the interstate, it’s late at night, your making good time and singing embarrassingly loud to Hotel California.  Your body says it needs a rest, but your mind wants to put another hundred miles behind you, so you ignore your body and reach for that cup of coffee or an energy drink, knowing it will “jack you up” for another 2 hours.

We have all been there either in our personal vehicles and in our rigs. We are programmed to push harder and further, it’s not about you, it’s about time and money, but at what point do we say enough and lay off the delicious stimulant we all cherish. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that “drowsy driving” was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013, the last time the data was updated. However, these numbers are underestimated and up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers.

As a Professional Driver, we fall high into the at-risk category, those energy spikes may help fight off the urge, but they will wear off, and when your body catches up with you, it wants to collect. If it makes you feel any better you are not alone. Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world. Coffee represents 75% of all the caffeine consumed in the United States. The average coffee cup size is 9 ounces, so they obviously haven’t seen the size of your mug.

Energy drinks also include other ingredients intended to boost physical energy or mental alertness, such as herbal substances, (no, not that herb) amino acids, sugars, and sugar derivatives; however, caffeine is the main active ingredient. Again, you’re not alone, according to the research company Mintel, it is estimated that energy drink category sales have increased to 13.5 billion US dollars in 2015.

Although everyone is different, up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. That's roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of cola or two "energy shot" drinks. Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system, causing increased alertness. Caffeine gives most people a temporary energy boost and elevates mood. Caffeine is in tea, coffee, chocolate, many soft drinks, and pain relievers and other over-the-counter medications.

Caffeine consumption has been studied as a risk factor for many diseases and conditions, including hypertension, bone health, cardiovascular disease, various types of cancer, reproduction and developmental abnormalities and both mental health and behavioral disorders.

There are no statistics on how many bathroom stops this causes the Professional Driver--you know who you are.

Before over indulging, you also need to consider any medication you may be taking as it can negatively affect both the effects of caffeine itself, as well as the performance of the medication.  You should also think about how much sleep you have had and your eating habits. The main warning sign is your common sense, but in case you're stubborn and want to keep “truckin”, here are some warning signs that it’s time to rest and not caffeinate.

·       Yawning or blinking frequently

·       Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven

·       Missing your exit

·       Drifting from your lane

·       Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road

·       Considering getting married. (ok, we made that one up)

The bottom line is that like anything else, it’s all about moderation. Use common sense and listen to your body--treat it like that warning light on your dash board.

For the record, no coffee or energy drinks were consumed or harmed during the writing of this article.

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