Sleep is a vital and overlooked part of becoming a successful long-haul trucker. Drowsy and exhausted truck drivers are a danger to themselves and other four-wheelers on the road. Accidents can cause you to lose your license or worse.
Unfortunately, getting enough sleep can be quite a challenge for truckers, especially in their first year of driving. Driving across the country and living out of the cab presents a brand-new lifestyle and a number of potential new sleep disruptions for rookie drivers.
In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of sleep and the essential strategies that long-haul truckers should use to make sure they get enough.
Benefits of Sleep
Sleep provides truck drivers with a necessary recharge before driving the next stretch of miles. As much as drivers hate the mandated Hours of Service (HOS), there’s a reason those rules exist. Resting soundly has numerous health benefits that will keep you hauling cargo and making money for a long time.
The most important benefit of getting enough sleep is your own safety. A sleep-deprived brain will start to take microsleeps. These mini-naps occur when you unknowingly fall asleep for a short moment. These are extremely dangerous on the road, even if they only last a fraction of a second!
Even if you don’t experience microsleeps, sleep deprivation makes it difficult to make quick decisions. Drivers usually only get a split second to prevent an accident, so your reaction time is crucial for your own safety.
An adequate amount of sleep also gives long-haul truckers the immune system boost they need. Rest makes sure that the body can fight off infections, maintain proper blood pressure, and keep a proper appetite.
It’s no secret that truck drivers struggle with obesity. In response to a lack of sleep, the body produces hormones that make you feel hungry. Your body does this in an attempt to acquire enough fuel to compensate for the lack of sleep. Ultimately this can lead to obesity. These poor diet habits and sleep deprivation can also have an effect on how the body controls your blood sugar level, increasing your risk for diabetes.
Sleep also has a positive effect on your mood. A lot of truck drivers don’t like talking about mental health, but it’s important if you’re going to be driving alone for most of your days.
Getting seven or more hours of sleep can keep the mind clear and focused on the journey ahead.
This can help drivers maintain a happy, healthy outlook on life as opposed to the side effects of sleep deficiency, such as depression and anxiety.
Truckers that don’t get an adequate amount of rest may eventually develop a sleep disorder.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, up to 30% of commercial truck drivers have some type of sleep apnea.
The disorder can cause truckers to have difficulty breathing while sleeping and can become life-threatening.
Truck drivers that have this sleep disorder can still drive, but they should schedule a sleep study. It may be necessary to start using a CPAP machine while sleeping. Many professional drivers use a CPAP machine, and they typically report sleeping better with the machine.
Make the Sleeper Berth Comfortable
The sleeper berth is the area behind your seat that is designated for sleeping. Getting used to sleeping back there will take time. Fortunately, you have options to make it more comfortable.
Add a small mattress, piece of memory foam, sleeping bag, or a combination of all three. And invest in a good pillow that won’t fall apart in a couple days. You’re going to be spending a lot of time back there. A $30 investment in nice bedding can net you hours of rest.
Manage the Temperature
Some people like to sleep while warm and bundled up, and others prefer a nice chill. Whatever your preference, the temperature matters for how well you sleep. For truck drivers that cross the entire country during all seasons, climate control is especially important.
In extreme heat, you may to put the truck in idle to let the air conditioning run. If you cannot idle the truck, you may need an auxiliary power unit (APU) to run an air conditioner out of the window. If you decide to roll down the window for air, invest in a bug screen.
For the winter, you will have a heater near the berth. As with air conditioning, the heater will either be powered by the truck idling or an APU. Regardless of the heater, long-haul truckers should always pack for extreme temperatures. Jackets, heavy blankets, gloves, etc. Be ready for the cold.
Find the Best Place to Park
When you call it a night, park in a safe location. Always try to park at a truck stop or at the shipper/receiver away from traffic where it’s quiet. Avoid parking on the shoulder of the road, exit ramps, or vacant lots. These areas put long-haul truckers at risk and can lead to devastating accidents.
If you are able to park at a truck stop, think twice about parking in the very back. Unwelcomed guests like to linger there and may repeatedly knock on your truck door throughout the entire night. When avoiding the back row is not an option, consider putting up a do not disturb sign.
Avoid Noise, Light, and Other Disturbances
If you can’t find a quiet place to park, you may choose to use earplugs, earbuds, or white noise machines to dampen the sound. Just be careful that you can still hear your alarm. In your first year as a truck driver, you will learn to ignore and tune out the ordinary sounds of idling engines and in-cab noises such as the auxiliary power unit.
Another issue to tackle is light. Beams of light can illuminate your cab and make it difficult to get a good sleep. Consider using curtains and sun visors to black out your windows.
Turn off all artificial light within in the cab before calling it a day. Studies show that the light from phones, laptops, and other electronics can prevent you from falling asleep. If all else fails, try using a thick eye mask.
For drivers with a working sense of smell, avoid parking in smelly areas, away from dumpsters or trash. Foul odors can and will disrupt your sleep cycle.
Use Stimulants in Moderation
Keep your use of caffeine, energy drinks, and nicotine to a minimum. Long-haul truckers often rely on these boosters to keep themselves awake, but this is a double-edged sword. If you consume too much, you won’t be able to fall asleep. Minimizing your use of stimulants help you get a good night’s rest.
As we’ve covered, sleep is necessary for a trucker’s health, safety, and state of mind. Accidents may even cause you to lose your CDL and your career. Each person’s sleep needs are different, but if you follow these sleep strategies, you’ll be driving safely for long time to come.