Tricks to Stay Awake When Plowing During a Heavy Storm

Created January 28, 2021

Plowing snow at night

While most people are hibernating on bitter winter nights, snow and ice contractors are ditching sleep and braving the cold to clear the way. Staying awake and alert behind the wheel is just one of the challenges of being a snow plow operator. Although everyone has their favorite tactics, here are some best practices from WESTERN® on staying awake during a heavy storm.

Rest in Advance & Prepare For the Long Haul

Smart plow drivers have a good grasp on weather conditions and when the next storm is bound to hit. With experience, you learn how to predict a long night of plowing versus a quick cleanup before the morning commute. The best thing to do is get in a full sleep cycle (6+ hours) before getting on the road. This will improve alertness and prepare you for the long haul should the storm last a bit longer than anticipated.

Healthy Choices Increase Energy

Eating a huge, carb packed meal before you start plowing isn’t ideal. High protein, light, and healthy snacks are your best roadside companion to avoid the crash followed by high sugar, caffeine, or carb intake. Hydration is even more important, especially for physical activity when shoveling or treating sidewalks. Green tea is the perfect choice to both hydrate and gain natural energy while warming you up at the same time. If not hydrated, the body sends signals of tiredness and sleep deprivation to the brain. The cells, tissues, and organs in our body need water to work at their best.

Smart & Active Snacking

  • Gum: Another solution to combat tiredness is chewing gum. The stimulation of facial muscles causes increased blood flow to the head. Since chewing is not an involuntary muscle movement (like breathing or blinking) it energizes the brain, which helps you stay awake. Choose a mint flavor for added focus. Peppermint has been proven to improve memory and increase alertness while reducing stress.
  • Nuts/Seeds: Sunflower seeds can give you the fuel you need that also requires just enough active thought to prevent you from dozing off. Try putting a small handful of sunflower seeds in your cheek and cracking them open one at a time. Spit out the sunflower shells into a paper cup as you go.
  • Ice: Chewing on ice makes it tough for you to fall asleep because the refreshing coldness of the ice revives you, stimulates the brain, and gives the extra boost you need to stay awake.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable, Keep Blood Flowing

It’s important to keep your mind sharp and body agile so you’re ready for the unexpected. If you’re starting to feel drowsy, take a few deep breaths, roll your shoulders, or rotate your wrists and ankles to get more blood pumping to your brain. The use of muscles releases adrenaline, which is one of the most potent stimulants known to exist.

Stretching is another great way to re-invigorate yourself and release stress stored in your muscles. It improves your ability to breathe more deeply than you normally would. Finding simple ways to keep moving while stuck inside of a vehicle for long periods of time will help to stay alert. An increase in blood flow, circulation, and oxygen supply are excellent ways to wake up in a hurry.

Introduce New Techniques to Stay Alert the Last Few Hours of Plowing

When you’re almost done but still need to knock out a few properties before clocking out, it’s time to change up your technique and find a hidden source of energy. Instead of getting cozy in your quiet heated cab, try a few of these tips:

  • Give Your Body Temperature a Climate Shock
    When you start to feel sleepy, roll down the window for some fresh, cool air or blast the air conditioning. The climate shock will quickly wake you up whenever you start to get too comfortable.  
  • Music & Podcasts Stimulate Your Mind
    To gain motivation and stimulate your mind during the last few hours of plowing, play something fast paced with a lot of bass or tune into an intriguing podcast. The loud, energetic music can give you the boost you needed. There are even pre-made Plow Playlists on Spotify, YouTube and Pandora to explore.
  • Refresh & Revitalize on the Go
    Similar to splashing your face with cold water, a facial wipe or mist is a very practical way to revitalize on the go. For an added boost, find a eucalyptus or menthol scent for instant relief that leaves you feeling energized and focused.

Beware of Your Internal Clock

Since safety is a high concern in the snow and ice industry, sometimes the best countermeasure against driving while sleepy is to stop driving and take a nap. There is no sense in risking the lives of those surrounding you or risking damage to your equipment.

The biological urge to sleep is strongest between 4AM – 6AM, making it harder for plow operators to maintain alertness and attention during that time. Taking a break around 3AM has been shown to help night workers stay alert while on the job.

If you have the manpower to make it possible, look into rotating shifts on heavy storm nights so some of the crew can rest while the others are out clearing the way. It’s a great way to improve morale with the team and an efficient way to keep business profitable.

Get the job done faster (and better) with the award-winning PILE DRIVER™ pusher plows with TRACE™ edge technology.