Are we taking the advice of health professionals to heart?

Do we just smile and nod when our health professionals tell us that we need to cut some cholesterol out of our diet, or perhaps sodium, or sugar? Maybe we need to lower our stress levels to manage our blood pressure, or be more active to help with a weight issue or simply to be healthier overall.

There has been no shortage of conferences I have attended over the past couple of years, and one of the messages that has been echoed by pretty much every health professional I have heard is that we as a society are not getting enough sleep.

Truck drivers know this reality all too well.

For years, drivers have been hammering the pavement for hours on end moving freight, and for good or bad, doing so with far too little rest.

They say – and for the sake the word ‘they’ in this column, I am referring to the various health professionals who have addressed this matter over the years – that most, most being about 97% of the population, need between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep every night to function properly.

Every time this statement is uttered it is followed by the presenter asking those in attendance how many get that amount of sleep on a regular basis. Which is then quickly followed by about one or two people putting their hands up.

It’s safe to say that the vast majority of us, those in the trucking industry particularly, do not get enough sleep…some, not even close.

I always overhear people I’m sitting next to commenting on this subject as it’s discussed. Some agree, saying how much better it would be if they were able to get that amount of sleep, while others agree it would be nice, but believe it is unrealistic in today’s world to expect to get eight hours of sleep every night.

For some, I agree, it’s hard. You have young children at home, run a business, want to exercise, have dinner with your spouse or friends from time to time, plan a vacation, watch a movie at night to relax…it’s hard.

But in general, I feel that one of the main reasons we don’t get enough sleep does have to do with our jobs. For some – dare I say most – work takes up more of your time than anything else, sometimes, all other things combined.

Think about that for a second. Even if you only work 40 hours a week, being at work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday is a lot of time away from your family. And that’s just when you’re at work and not including getting ready for work, driving to work, and any other work-related activities you may do here and there.

So for those who like to maximize their time with family and friends, they often end up trading sleep and other healthy choices, like going to the gym.

Getting enough sleep makes us smarter, healthier, more alert, feel better, enhances our mood, lowers risk of disease…in a nutshell, it saves lives, not just for the person getting the sleep, but also for those around them – think of a truck driver going down the road at 60 mph…now imagine him or her feeling groggy, tired, not alert, or even dozing off.

It seems to me that those who drive for a living would be at the top of the list of those who need to be well rested, but often the opposite is the case.

So when we go to these conferences and hear someone tell us the importance of sleep and health overall, maybe we shouldn’t just say, “Ya, ya…like that’s going to happen,” and instead take it to heart.

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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