Author: Dr. David Thorpe, DC, DACBOH
With all of the regulations from the FMCSA, to many motor carriers concerns about freight deliveries and pickups, time off to rest, and most importantly get enough sleep has been a source of concern for the truck driver. So why the big deal? Why is everyone so concerned?
The most obvious concern of the FMCSA and many motor carriers appears to be safety. Concerned enough to not only develop and update regulations, but also to now mandate “Electronic Logging Devices” and start planning to implement these devices for truckers.
But why is it also very important to the truck driver? It relates to your health! As a truck driver, you spend hours on the road under tight deadlines, so getting quality sleep can be tough. Without enough sleep you can develop health problems. Here’s why it’s so important to get good sleep and how you can be well-rested before you hit the road.
How sleep affects your health
Not getting enough sleep can lead to higher risk of many chronic health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. According to Harvard Medical School, people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure (an issue for truck drivers) throughout the next day.
Getting enough sleep as a truck driver is therefore just as important as eating right and exercising. When you sleep, your body repairs itself and gets you ready for the next day.
Without adequate or quality sleep, you could experience:
- Slower reaction times. Definitely important if you are driving a big rig! It could mean the difference between stopping on time or being involved with in a serious accident.
- A cloudy/foggy mind and a lack of focus.
- Being irritable.
- Chronic sleep deprivation can also lead to many the development of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. As a matter of fact, when people who suffered anxiety and depression were surveyed to calculate their sleep habits, it turned out that most of them slept less than six hours per night.
- It may also affect your immune system increasing your risk for developing infections, as well as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- It often leads to an increased appetite, which can lead to overeating and even obesity.
Other factors that can affect your sleep & health
There are many medical conditions that may relate to chronic fatigue and could possibly relate to inadequate sleep patterns. They include such conditions as anemia, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and glandular disorders such as hypo and hyper-thyroidism. Proper treatment and control of these conditions is important to managing any sleep issues you may have.
The one medical condition that has received the greatest amount of notoriety for the truck driver however is obstructive sleep apnea.
Concerned about sleep apnea? This, as mentioned has been a big issue with the FMCSA and can often lead to delays in medical certification. It also has a significant negative impact on a drivers health. So how should you deal with it? Be proactive! Don’t wait until someone tells you that you need a sleep test. If you fall into one of the following category’s, get one done on your own before you suffer a delay in medical certification, or worse yet, it effects your health!
Those who are at risk for sleep apnea will generally:
- Snore loudly
- Have frequent pauses in breathing.
- Have a BMI (Body Mass Index), of 35 or greater! You can find a BMI calculator on any smart device or computer.
- If you have a BMI of 35 to 39, and have hypertension, diabetes or had a previous stoke, you should have a sleep study.
- If your BMI is 40 or above, regardless of other health problems, you should have a sleep study.
- If your neck circumference is 17 inches for a man, or 16 inches for a women, you are at greater risk for sleep apnea.
Sleep studies can often be expensive, so check with your medical insurance.
One less expensive option that is becoming more popular are “At home” Sleep Studies. Pass My Physical has contracted with a provider of this type of service at a discounted rate. For those who utilize our service you will be able to connect with this provider through the mobile app.
How much sleep do we need?
Most of us need about eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly. Some need more and some need less. It is important that each of us understand what we need and strive to get it.
As a general rule, if you are tired when you wake up and spend the day this way, it is likely that you are not getting enough sleep. Even though this may often relate to health conditions such as sleep apnea, most of the time it relates to poor sleeping habits.
How can I tell if I am too tired to drive?
Studies have shown that drivers cannot accurately rate their degree of impairment due to drowsiness and that sleep-related accidents are more common in young people than in older drivers. So what are the warning signs?
- Trouble keeping your eyes open.
- Trouble keeping your head up.
- Daydreaming or wandering thoughts.
- Drifting across lanes.
- Drifting of the road or hitting rumble strips.
- Missing signs or exits.
- Frequently yawning or rubbing your eyes.
- Irritability or restlessness.
With deadlines and tight schedules it is not always easy to take a break. However, if you are at risk, isn’t it better to break and get to your destination late, than to get into an accident and not get there at all? Only you, the professional trucker can make a decision such as this.
How can you get good sleep on the road?
So how can you make sure you’re well-rested and ready to drive? Creating a relaxing bedtime routine and having a quiet and peaceful environment can improve your sleep.
Try these tips for a restful night’s sleep the next time you head to bed.
- Keep regular sleep-hours. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day will program your body to sleep better. Chose a time when you’re likely to feel tired and sleepy.
- Park your truck in an area that is quiet and safe.
- Block out all light. Close your curtains and truck shades, or use an eye mask.
- Use earplugs or a “white noise” machine like a fan to block out noises. Put your cell phone on ‘do not disturb’ or set your phone to ring only for important contacts to minimize distractions.
- Keep your cab or bedroom at a temperature that’s comfortable for you.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable. Consider upgrading or replacing the mattress in your sleeper if it is old or uncomfortable.
- Get regular exercise. Moderate exercise on a regular basis, such as walking, can help relieve some of the tension built up over the day. Do not exercise vigorously before bedtime however, such as running or going to the gym. This may keep you awake.
- Cut down on caffeine! Do not drink tea’s, coffee, energy drinks or colas in the evening especially. Caffeine interferes with the process of falling asleep, and also prevents deep sleep. Instead have a warm milky drink or herbal tea.
- Don’t overindulge! Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night can interrupt your sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but it will disrupt your sleep later.
- Don’t smoke before bedtime. Nicotine is a stimulant. Smokers take longer to fall asleep, they wake up more frequently, and they often have more disrupted sleep.
- Try to relax before going to bed.
- Write away your worries. Sounds funny but if you lie in bed thinking about everything you have to do tomorrow, set aside a time before bedtime to make plans for the next day. The aim is to avoid doing these things when you are in bed, and trying to fall asleep.
- Lastly, if you cannot fall asleep, get up. Do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed.