A truck driver’s job requires a high level of safety and sharpness, which is why it is essential that truck drivers can get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. And yet, getting regular, quality sleep is one of the biggest challenges that a truck driver faces. Because the job facing a truck driver is so critical, sleep, sleep apnea, and health and wellness have been highly-studied topics over the past quarter-century.
When a truck driver is hauling goods, they are doing more than just ensuring the consistency of the supply chain, they are responsible for ensuring the safety of themselves and those around them on the nation’s roads and highways. Many would be shocked to hear how difficult it actually is for a truck driver to get a good, solid night’s sleep considering how important their job is.
What happens when a truck driver is unable to sleep well? Their mood changes, their ability to focus diminishes, and even motor skills can suffer; all of which are mental health aspects that a truck driver must be able to rely upon. And it is not only mental health that suffers. A lack of good sleep can have a major impact on physical health as well. Irregular sleep patterns have been tied to everything from weight gain and cardiovascular disease to hypertension and obesity. When we consider that this is an ongoing problem for truck drivers, it isn’t hard to see it turning into a major crisis.
Not only do some truck driver suffer from a lack of quality sleep, they must contend with noisy truck stops, stiff or otherwise uncomfortable mattresses, camped cabs, and an “on the road” lifestyle that does not create a healthy paradigm. Spending so much time out on the road does nothing to improve the sleeping lot of truck drivers.
The question now is this: If getting a regular night’s sleep is such a big challenge – for long-haul truckers, especially – then what is the industry doing about it? Furthermore, what can individuals do about it to improve their own lot? While it is important that fleets themselves put a lot of thought and effort into this matter, individual operators must also make specific life changes to ensure they are getting the rest they need.
There are many ways that drivers can improve their sleep quality and there are many things the trucking industry can do to focus on this topic. Motor carriers must support their people in ensuring they are supporting the cause of a restful sleep and offering support and resources to their truck drivers.
Improving Physical Resources
The fact is this: A better mattress equals better sleep. Ask truck drivers and many will tell you that truck sleepers are uncomfortable and the mattresses within them of poor quality. But trucking companies do not have to do much to improve a truck driver’s lot within the cab. Something as simple as a 3- to 6-inch memory foam pad or high-quality mattress cover can make all the difference in the world.
Fleets should either provide a better mattress or pad option to their truck drivers or offer their truck drivers a payment plan or other incentive to acquire them themselves. The important thing is that fleet management does not saddle their people with uncomfortable or otherwise inadequate equipment.
Improving physical resources also encompasses the truck itself. While most fleets are very conscientious about purchasing new and ergonomically-enhances vehicles, many fleet drivers still suffer from poor equipment choices, whether it be through old trucks, long worn-out seats in cabs, or cab equipment that breaks down or is unreliable.
Truck drivers spend a lot of time in their vehicle and it is up to their employers to ensure their vehicles meets all the latest safety standards while also providing them with a comfortable environment to get the job done. The truck is a truck driver’s office, and much like corporate outfits stock their offices with ergonomic chairs and other comfort and wellness amenities, trucking companies must do the same.
Focusing on Health and Wellness
One of the big problems truck drivers face is a lack of movement, and trucking is not the only profession where truck drivers face this problem. Drivers must get out and move more, keep their circulation going, and prevent blood clots. The more someone moves throughout their day, the more melatonin their body produces, which then creates a better, deeper level of sleep; individuals simply sleep better and stay asleep longer.
The more one moves and exercises (which is another area where companies must put their focus), the better able a body is to recover from the stresses of the day. Motor carriers have responded by installing amenities such as gyms and truck driver wellness programs, but still, not enough is being done on an industry-wide basis.
Truck drivers must be encouraged to stretch several times a day, take walks whenever possible, and even do limited exercises such as squats. They must also be encouraged to stay active on days they are off the clock and at home. In many cases, all they need is someone teaching them how to make healthy changes, and this is where their fleet comes in.
Focusing on proper health and wellness is not just about staying active. Diet is also incredibly important. Truck drivers must be taught how to reduce or eliminate caffeine, especially during the six hours before they go to bed. What many don’t know is that caffeine inhibits the production of melatonin. So, even though a truck driver may be able to fall asleep some time after drinking a cup of coffee or soda, the sleep will be less restful and deep. Truck drivers should limit their caffeine intake to no more than 60mg per day.
Speaking of soda, truck drivers should avoid it. Rather than eating processed foods and drinking Mountain Dew, individuals need to eat whole foods, fruit, and vegetables, and take a high-quality multi-vitamin, which will give the body plenty of energy without the need for caffeine. Putting programs in place that encourage drivers to eat well goes a long way to securing their health.
And while many truck drivers may scoff at the idea of using relaxing music to meditate or help them fall asleep, research proves that certain types of meditation help people fall asleep. Furthermore, they achieve deeper, more restful levels of sleep. Fleets can find a variety of these solutions on YouTube or through mobile apps.
With sleep apnea being such a large problem for truck drivers – with one study showing it affects up to 28% of all professional truckers on the road today – trucking companies must do more to address obstructive sleep problems. They can do this through education programs that encourage truck drivers to get tested and offer access to CPAP machines should they need it. Ask any truck driver with sleep apnea how much a CPAP machine has improved their quality of life and the vast majority will swear by it.
Looking Beyond Sleep
If there is one thing that impacts drivers more than sleep, it is stress. And there may not be any workforce that deals with more stress on an ongoing basis than OTR truckers. Yet, it does not need to be this way. Of course, stress is an everyday reality and a part of life, but fleets that go out of their way to help their truck drivers manage stress reap big rewards.
While a certain level of stress is beneficial to one’s health, ongoing or high levels of stress has a negative impact on one’s health. Stress impacts an individual’s ability to get quality sleep, reduces mental focus and acuity, and contributes to major physical illness. For those who have preexisting conditions, stress can exacerbate already complex health issues.
Truckers face potential stress factors from all angles. Whether it be family and relationship stress, dealing with bad weather, truck breakdowns, irregular sleep patterns, problems at the dock, or otherwise, there are no shortage of ways a trucker can quickly get stressed out. Chronic stress of this nature also increases accident risk.
In fact, the FMCSA completed a Large Truck Crash Causation Study, which reviewed 141,000 trucking accidents over a three-year period and found that a truck driver feeling pressured resulted in 16% of crashes. Fatigue caused by chronic stress was responsible for another 18% of crashes. Stress can be a major safety issue for truckers, and it is something that should be addressed at the management level. Being proactive about managing stress and figuring out ways your organization can help truck drivers reduce stress and improve their levels of quality sleep does more than just lead to happy employees, it leads to less accidents and a better safety record. Investing in solutions that mitigate these problems should not be viewed