Truck driver fatigue is one of the most serious safety issues facing the transportation industry today. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration studies show that more than 750 fatalities and 20,000 injuries are caused by commercial driver fatigue each year. And the National Transportation Safety Board cites driver fatigue as a probable factor in 20-40% of truck crashes.
But, what can you do to combat fatigue while still delivering your load on time? First we need to understand the problem.
We all need a certain amount of sleep in order to be fully rested. It’s different for everyone, but is usually pretty close to the 8 hours your mom always told you to get. When we sleep less than that ideal amount, we accumulate sleep debt. Just like your credit cards, if you don’t pay that debt off eventually, it will come back to haunt you.
If you accumulate enough sleep debt, you will experience spontaneous shifts between sleeping and waking, often without even knowing it. These spontaneous naps can last anywhere from seconds (microsleeps) to minutes, and are your brain’s repo men, forcing you to pay back your sleep debt. If you get less than the ideal amount of sleep while you are on a transport, it is especially important that you are able to make up for that sleep on your days off so you can start with a clean slate the next time you head out.
Developing a sleep routine can help you mentally and physically prepare for sleep. A set routine acts as a set of cues to tell your mind it’s time for bed, making it easier to fall asleep. In addition to getting enough sleep, here are a couple tips to help prevent or overcome fatigue.
Take a nap
Even a short nap can greatly improve your alertness, even if you don’t feel well-rested afterwards. The best time to nap is when your internal clock (called the circadian cycle) is at its low point, between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. or between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Regular exercise leads to more restful sleep. Because exercise released adrenaline and other body chemicals, it is best not to exercise within several hours of trying to get to sleep.
Have a healthy snack
Having a snack can provide relief from fatigue, but beware of sugary or starchy treats. Snacks that are high in sugar do provide a temporary boost, but are also accompanied by the familiar sugar low, which can increase feelings of fatigue.
Even when you get the right amount of sleep, you may still experience some level of fatigue on the road. It’s important to recognize the signs of fatigue and to take steps to manage it.