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Coffee Can Cause Crashes: Limit Your Caffeine

Truckers need sleep, but what about taking caffeine as a substitute like coffee, energy drinks, and soda? After all, with the FMCSA suspending most HOS regulations, making deliveries in a timely manner calls for the use of our old friend Joe, right? You might be surprised (or not surprised) to find that a study has recently concluded that drinking coffee cups and sodas only make the problem worse.

Safety Science

The study is published in the June 2020 Safety Science journal, but you can see the study here as well. Ashleigh Filtness, a professor in the United Kingdom at Loughborough University, led the study.

The study entailed following the habits and actions of 3,007 US truckers. Of the approximately 3,000 participants, 1,653 truck drivers self-reported as low intake (one caffeinated beverage per day). The remaining 1,354 self-reported as high intake (five or more caffeinated beverages a day). After tracking the commercial vehicle drivers for approximately three years, the results were not surprising:

  • High caffeine drivers slept twenty minutes less than low caffeine drivers.
  • High caffeine drivers were almost 33% more likely to almost fall asleep during the day (7.5% compared to 5.7%).
  • High caffeine drivers were approximately 33% more likely to have obstructive sleep apnoea, reducing the quality of sleep they obtained.
  • Those with high caffeine intake were more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and have weight issues.
  • High caffeine drivers were reported to be more aggressive drivers and be in more crashes during their driving careers.

The study does have some flaws that could have been avoided to make it more accurate. There is a lack of a perfect control group (zero caffeinated beverages), and there is a lack of data regarding big rig drivers taking two, three, or four beverages per day. Plus, caffeine concentrations are different across drinks, such as comparing a Coca-Cola or Pepsi to a light roast coffee. It would have been more valuable to measure the amount of caffeine per day in milligrams.

Conclusion

Despite all of the ways the study could have been performed better, the evidence for what they did find is clear: drinking five or more caffeinated beverages while out on the road is a bad idea. This is above the 90th percentile of average American consumption, so there only is about a ten percent chance that this applies to you. What Filtness asks instead is to drink one fewer beverage than normal, whether you normally drink one or seven.

“I have been studying driver sleepiness for the past 12 years,” she said. “There is strong research evidence for the short-term benefits of caffeine to help reduce drivers’ experience of sleepiness. The more work I do in the area, the more I have anecdotally heard stories of professional drivers who are regularly consuming high quantities of caffeine in order to keep going.”

Try reducing your intake for two weeks and see how your sleep and mood changes; it may make the journey all that more bearable.

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