By Marion Kelly
Most drivers don’t get enough sleep, that’s common knowledge, but just how little they get is surprising. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that over-the-road drivers averaged just more than five hours per night in bed, and less than five hours of actual sleep. Simply put, it’s not enough.
In fact, less than seven hours of sleep results in decreased driver performance – namely, falling asleep at the wheel – mistakes in the logbook and decreased reaction times. When drivers are tired, accidents happen. Fatigue is one of the three top causes attributed to crashes. One hundred thousand auto crashes and more than 1,500 crash-related deaths are caused by fatigue every year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Those are sobering consequences of not catching enough shut-eye.
The first step in fighting fatigue while driving is addressing sleep habits. Truck drivers are no strangers to erratic sleep patterns. They can drive odd hours and weekends when most people are at home, tucked into bed. But that’s not to say they can’t practice good sleep habits. The Mayo Clinic offers seven steps to help you get a good night’s (or day’s) sleep.
Commit to a sleep schedule - Regardless of whether you work nights or a regular 9 to 5, set a bedtime and wake-time schedule and stick to it, even on days off. Consistency is the key here. There is one exception: If you lie in bed for 15 minutes and haven’t fallen asleep, get up. Go back to bed when you’re tired. (RoadPro 12-Volt Super Loud Alarm Clock shown here.)
Watch what you eat and drink – Don’t go to bed stuffed to the gills or stomach-grumbling hungry. Both will keep you awake. Keep the caffeine and alcohol in check as well. Caffeine can kick in after you’ve fallen asleep, waking you mid-sleep and alcohol may help you fall asleep, but rarely helps you maintain a deep sleep.
Create a bedtime ritual – It doesn’t have to be a glass of warm milk or a bedtime story, but the idea is the same. Create a ritual to tell your body it’s time for bed. A warm shower, a cup of herbal tea or reading a chapter in a book are some examples of soothing pre-sleep activities. Note that using any kind of screen is discouraged. Television, phones, tablets or other devices are more likely to keep you up.
Get comfortable – Think cave-like conditions for sleeping – dark, cool and quiet. If you’re missing one of these, sleep might be difficult to come by. But luckily, it’s fairly easy to acquire earplugs, blackout curtains or a fan. Also invest in a good pillow – a good one can save your neck.
Limit daytime naps – Not that truck drivers have a lot of extra time in their day, but if you do decide to nap, limit it to no longer than 30 minutes.
Get moving – Everyone and their mother tells you that exercise will help you live longer. And it will, but exercise also offers more immediate results. Regular exercise will help you sleep better, fall asleep faster and benefit from deeper sleep. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime or you might be too energized to get some ZZZs.
Manage stress – Running thoughts and worries happen to all of us. We all have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Instead of worrying, and potentially disrupting your night’s sleep, get your stress under control. Get organized, set priorities, delegate what you can, take a break if you need it. If you’re one to make mental to-do lists, write it down and tackle it tomorrow.
The second step for fighting fatigue is addressing awake habits. While many drivers reach for a cup of coffee or an energy drink, there are other ways to stay awake naturally. Here are some tips to keep you fresh and alert while on the road.
Exercise – It seems counter-intuitive to work your muscles when you’re tired, but a little exercise goes a long way. A couple of minutes with a jump rope, a brisk walk or even a dozen pushups can get the blood flowing and make you more alert.
?Drink water – The more dehydrated you are, the more likely you’ll feel fatigued. Drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated beverages.
Nap – A short nap, of no more than 25 minutes, taken at least six hours before you go to bed can reinvigorate you for the day.
Roll down the window – A little fresh air will be a welcome reprieve and the burst of air should provide a good jolt.
Chew gum – Preferably mint or cinnamon flavored. The combination of chewing and those flavors can get your mind back to the task at hand.
Turn up the radio – Make sure it’s something foot-tapping.
Stay connected – Get your headset out and make some phone calls. The best way to stay awake is to make sure your mind is engaged. If you don’t want to call someone, pick up the CB. (RoadKing RK400 shown here.)
Stretch – When you stop to fuel, make sure to stretch your entire body to get blood flowing again.
While you can’t truly get “caught up” on sleep, it’s not too late to try getting better, more restful sleep. Laughter may be the best medicine, but sleep probably comes in a close second. It could be the best preventive medicine you ever practice.