Do you wish you could crawl into bed and sleep for a week? You may be sleep-deprived.
Be careful: getting too little sleep over the long term (chronic) or short term (acute) can affect your cognitive functions, and studies suggest that fatigue and/or sleep deprivation may be a contributing factor in up to 40% of all heavy truck crashes.
A survey of long-haul truck drivers showed that 66% of drivers acknowledged experiencing some level of fatigue on at least half of their trips and 65% reported symptoms of drowsiness such as yawning, feeling drowsy or sleepy and struggling to stay alert while driving. Thirteen per cent of drivers reported actually falling asleep at the wheel.
There are other signs of chronic sleep deprivation, too, such as: muscle aches; confusion; memory lapse/loss; depression; hallucinations; headaches; malaise; irritability; seizures; eye styes; bags under your eyes; rapid, involuntary rhythmic eye movement; hand tremors; and clumsiness; along with an increased risk of high blood pressure; elevated stress hormone levels; diabetes; obesity; and fibromyalgia.
Obviously, sleep deprivation can impact your well-being, driving performance and reaction time, especially if you are driving long-distance, in a dark or monotonous driving environment, or driving overnight or in the early morning, since irregular hours and nighttime driving disrupt your natural sleep patterns.
Time of day is a huge factor regarding fatigue/reduced alertness in commercial trucking. According to your body’s normal circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock that regulates sleep patterns and fatigue), your daily times of peak alertness are around 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Most drowsy driving crashes occur between midnight and 8 a.m. and between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., predictably following the patterns of circadian rhythm.
You can overcome drowsiness to safely continue your run by pulling over for a short 15- to 30-minute power nap. Alternatively, napping late in the day before driving at night can partially compensate for sleep debt. Just be sure to keep a nap short, since longer naps often trigger grogginess. Since caffeine and/or other stimulants cannot eliminate the effects of severe sleep deprivation, don’t depend on them.
Researchers have found that sleep-deprived drivers often show the same reduced driving skills as drunk drivers. After being awake for 16 hours, a driver’s performance begins to deteriorate. After 17-19 hours, drivers typically perform worse than people with a blood alcohol level of 0.05%; and after being awake for 21 hours, driving performance matches that of a person with a blood alcohol content of 0.08%.
So, following the hours-of-service rules helps avoid sleep deprivation and associated health issues, as long as you are able to get six to nine hours per day of uninterrupted sleep during your downtime. More sleep will be needed, though, if you have accumulated a sleep debt, which can be a challenge as you juggle deadlines, delays and schedule changes.
Plan ahead to get the rest you need. Consider adding the following to your usual routine: First, commit to consistently getting six to eight hours of quality sleep every day. Then, target a regular sleeping schedule and manage your driving schedule to maintain it (when at all possible). In the few hours before your bedtime, avoid stimulating foods, drinks or activities; so, if your route requires you to sleep during the day, cut out these stimulants after midnight.
Create a restful sleeping environment in your rig, a motel or your home. Help ensure your sleep remains uninterrupted by: turning off/unplugging your phone; closing room-darkening window shades; adjusting the thermostat to a comfortable, cooler temperature; wearing earplugs and an eye mask; posting a ‘Do not disturb’ sign on your door, and/or letting your family and friends know when you will be sleeping and are unavailable.
To help transition into sleep, relax before settling into bed by reading, watching TV, deep breathing, stretching, progressive muscle relaxation, and anything else that helps you unwind.
Stay on the safe side by getting enough quality sleep.
Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org