Sleep Deprivation and Truck Drivers

by Pride Transport | Feb 27, 2019

Get some sleep.” “Let me sleep on it.” “Everything will seem better after a good night’s sleep.” These are phrases we toss around, hear often and just accept. The reality is, sleep is more important than most of us believe. There is a medical disorder called Fatal Familial Insomnia where the afflicted stops being able to sleep. They move into a phase of unending insomnia. This leads to illness, dementia and, in no more than 18 months, death. Sleep is a good thing. Sleep is a necessary thing. Sleep will keep you alive.


It Doesn’t Mean You’re Tough

The great inventor Thomas Edison was known to take no more than 4 hours of sleep per night. He used to say that sleep was a waste of time. Famed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would deride people as weak if they needed more than four hours of sleep per night. Somehow sleeping a full seven or eight hours a night became a sign of weakness. If you’re powerful and a leader you didn’t need a full eight hours and you functioned perfectly well without it. However, Edison was famously crotchety and argumentative, always fighting with everyone in his path and Thatcher used to nap in the back seat of her Jaguar Daimler. The car was equipped with custom built headrests because her aides were so afraid she’d suffer injury if the car had to brake suddenly.

A lack of sleep doesn’t make you tough or a natural leader but it does do many things that you may not be aware of and none of them are good.


Because You’re Not Sleeping

A lack of sleep does many things to your body, most of which you really don’t want happening to your body. Science has linked a lack of sleep to all kinds of serious medical problems.

Lack of sleep can negatively impact both your long term and short term memory. Concentration levels, thinking, creativity and problem-solving skills all start to fall apart when you have a serious lack of sleep.

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to mood disorders, depression, and anxiety. If you haven’t slept enough you could become depressed and, when depressed, you will find it harder to sleep so, it can become a dangerous cycle.

Lack of sleep can cause you to have serious body issues as well. Your immune system gets weakened, less than five hours of sleep per night and you risk high blood pressure. Not sleeping also affects your body’s release of insulin which can lead to type two diabetes. You’re also at a higher risk for heart disease without sleep due to the increased levels of chemicals linked to inflammation. When you don't get enough sleep there are two hormones in your body, leptin, and ghrelin, that control the feelings of hunger and satiety. The production and release of these hormones can be disturbed causing weight gain. And, continued lack of sleep will seriously age your skin.


You Are Not Doing Fine

Sleep deprived people seem to be prone to poor judgment, especially when it comes to what lack of sleep is doing to them. In our increasingly fast-paced world, as we’ve seen, people look at functioning with less sleep as some sort of badge of honor. They think it makes them appear stronger. Reality is people who get 6 hours or less sleep as opposed to a recommended 7 or 8 hours, have simply adapted to being sleep deprived. They are not better, stronger or more of a leader, they have simply gotten used to being sleep deprived.

Adapting to sleep deprivation is rather dangerous. On tests of mental alertness and performance, the sleep-deprived showed signs that their alertness, ability to solve problems, make critical decisions all go downhill. There’s also a point in chronic sleep deprivation where the people lose touch with how impaired they really are.

The lack of self-awareness in a person's abilities is especially serious when it happens to commercial truck drivers. With 80,000 pounds under their control impaired judgment, drowsiness or lack of concentration can become a nightmare for all those on the road with them.


HOS Rule To Make Driving Safer

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has laid out a set of rules that limit the amount of time a driver can work and drive before taking a required break. This is known as the Hours of Service (HOS) rule. The rule requires drivers to log their time and stay to the rules. With the advent of the ELD, Electronic Logging Device, it makes it more difficult for drivers to circumvent the rules and risk driving drowsy. According go the HOS, a driver must log sleep berth. This is time spent physically in the sleeping compartment of a commercial truck specifically for the purpose of obtaining rest or sleep.

Once on duty, a driver can drive/work a maximum 14-hour shift before they are required to go off duty or into the sleeper berth for 10 hours. Additionally, during a 14-hour shift, a driver can only be behind the wheel for 11 hours.

If a driver has reached 60 hours of work/driving in a 7 day period or 70 hours in an 8 day period, they can not drive anymore without a mandatory break.

The HOS was established to keep drivers and those who occupy the roads with commercial truck drivers safe. However, despite the rules to reduce drowsy driving, a recent survey of truck drivers conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute found that 66% of drivers indicated increased fatigue while driving due to a direct result of these new rules.

Drivers must be aware and police themselves to make sure they are getting enough quality sleep so that they aren’t driving drowsy or impaired.


Tips For Better Sleep

The HOS rules do not guarantee that a driver will get good sleep. Here are some tips to help drivers sleep better and stay safer.

  • Keep regular sleep hours. Going to bed and getting up roughly at the same time every day will help program your body to sleep better.
  • Park your truck in a safe, quiet area.
  • Block out all light. Use a sleep mask if you cannot keep the sleeping compartment truly dark.
  • Use earplugs or a white noise machine to block out annoying noises.
  • Set your phone to ‘do not disturb’ or to ring only for the most important contacts.
  • Keep the temperature in your cab at a comfortable setting for you.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable - think about upgrading or replacing the mattress in your sleeper if it’s old and uncomfortable.
  • Get regular exercise, walk, go to the gym. However, do not exercise vigorously before bedtime. Running or going to the gym before bed may actually keep you up.
  • Cut down on caffeine; do not drink tea, coffee, energy drinks or colas in the evening.
  • Too much food or alcohol, especially at night, can interrupt sleep patterns.
  • Don’t smoke before bedtime, nicotine is a stimulant.
  • Try to relax before going to bed, meditate or read.
  • Write it out. If you lie in bed thinking of all the things you have to do the next day, you will not sleep. Take time before bed to write out your next day’s schedule and plans then, be done with it. The aim here is to avoid overthinking while you’re trying to fall asleep.
  • If you cannot fall asleep.  Don't force it, get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again. Then, go back to bed.

Sleep is a serious issue, especially with commercial drivers. Staying alert, not driving drowsy and being on top of your game is a must so that you and all those who share the road with you can get home safe. Take responsibility and get some sleep.

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