Sleep-deprivation and fatigue-related accidents unfortunately are common among truckers. Long hours on the road, lack of exercise, and frequent eating contribute to tiredness, while the demands of the trucking life can make it hard to schedule a decent rest. The trucking business runs 24/7, every day of the year, with pressures and regulations that require you to maximize driving time. Good sleep habits can take a back seat to all this.
Yet even a moderate lack of sleep can slow reaction times, affect vision, and reduce your ability to be sharp on the road. It’s crucial to be as fully rested as you can be for your own safety, the safety of others, and the stability of your rig and cargo.
What can you do about it?
- Work out a sleep schedule that takes into account your routes, typical customers, sleep habits and log requirements. Yes, it can be a challenge, what with loads and deliveries and crowded rest stops. Your rest may have to be divided into multiple segments.
- Learn to sleep at any time of the day or night. For times when your schedule is just too crazy, this may be your best bet.
- Keep fit and eat healthily, to maximize your bunk time. Being in better physical shape will help you sleep deeper, fall asleep more easily and be more rested.
- Take cat naps when you can. A half-hour nap can jumpstart your day, and even closing your eyes briefly, while waiting for loading or unloading, can conserve energy.
Sleep Apnea Adds Danger to the Road
Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which people experience pauses in breathing while sleeping, resulting in fragmentary sleeping.
Untreated sleep apnea and the resulting excessive sleepiness is common among truck drivers and has lead to serious accidents. The first lawsuit for a highway death related to sleep apnea resulted in a $3 million settlement. A truck crashed into the back of a car in May 2010, and it turned out that the trucker had been diagnosed for sleep apnea but failed to get treatment.
Being obese or overweight is one of the leading causes of sleep apnea. A recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that transportation workers have the highest obesity rate—37.8 percent—of any U.S. industry. Life on the road is tough, and truck drivers face an uphill battle when it comes to health.
You can help prevent obstructive sleep apnea if you:
- Avoid alcohol and medicines such as sleeping pills and sedatives right before bed. These can relax your throat muscles and slow your breathing.
- Eat sensibly, exercise, and stay at a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking. Nicotine relaxes the muscles that keep airways open. If you don’t smoke, those muscles are less likely to collapse at night and narrow the airways.
- If you have sleep apnea, make use of prescribed treatments such as special mouthpieces.
Drowsy driving can be almost as dangerous as getting behind the wheel after too many beers. While most commercial truck drivers are professionals who would never drink on the job, they can easily overlook factors that put them at increased risk of a “sleepy” accident.