Many drivers start their day in the early morning hours, sometimes before the sun rises, while others truck on well into the night. Too often you can find red-eyed commercial drivers yawning as they buy coffee at a truck rest stop. Chronic fatigue isn’t just bad for drivers’ health; it’s also a significant hazard while behind the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are around 100,000 police-reported accidents that involve a drowsy driver every year.
The hours of services (HOS) safety regulations aim to prevent truck drivers from getting behind the wheel without adequate rest. However, there aren’t hard and fast rules for what constitutes enough sleep for everyone. Some people can fire on all cylinders with six or seven hours of sleep, while others may need closer to nine hours. There is also the issue that some people are early risers, while others are night owls.
The following are several suggestions to help drivers achieve more recuperative sleep:
- Establish regular sleep hours. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) established the HOS rule dictating 14 hours on-duty and 10 hours off-duty to help drivers achieve adequate sleep. However, getting the right amount of sleep can’t combat a sporadic sleep schedule. Drivers that disrupt their sleep-wake cycle may notice mood swings, problems concentrating, and slowed reaction times. If drivers have to work outside of their typical schedule, they should still try to eat meals around the same time every day. Even if the driver isn’t hungry, the body is expecting food. Having a light snack at a regular meal hour can help offset some of the imbalance the body experiences when drivers shift around their sleep schedule. Similarly, drivers should avoid eating heavy meals when they usually sleep. The metabolism slows down during this period even if the driver is awake, and the digestive system isn’t prepared to take on a meal.
- Sleep the amount the driver needs. The average person needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but some can function well on six. The problem for drivers who need less sleep is that they typically can’t sleep for more than that amount of time. For these drivers, they should use the mandatory off-duty time as a wind-down time for reading, meditating, or other quiet activities. Drivers who need closer to nine hours of sleep shouldn’t force themselves to operate on six. Drivers who learn their sleep needs can avoid the frustration of lying awake bored or rising exhausted.
- Imitate sleep conditions. Even when a driver is exhausted, it’s not always easy to fall asleep. This is particularly true when drivers are working unusual shifts, and the sun is still out. Drivers can take steps to get their bodies ready for sleep, though, even outside of their usual bedtime. For instance, drivers can mimic the drop in body temperature that coincides with sleep by turning down the temperature in their cabs. Blue light blocking sunglasses or using the night-time setting on electronic devices can also help improve melatonin production and sleep quality.
- Acknowledge sleep problems. If a driver has chronic back pain, he or she will seek out a doctor. He or she may require a specialist, physical therapy, or a medical device that can alleviate the pain. When it comes to sleep problems, though, many drivers choose not to talk about it. Some fear they’ll come across as lazy, while others don’t think of sleep as critical to their overall health. However, larger problems can be at play if drivers are chronically under-rested. They may have insomnia, sleep apnea, or other sleep disorders. By acknowledging the problem, drivers can find a solution rather than putting themselves and others at risk by driving while drowsy.
Of the 100,000 annual crashes due to drowsy driving, NHTSA noted 71,000 injuries and over 1550 fatalities. The numbers may be even higher as it’s not always easy to verify if the driver was drowsy or not at the time of the accident. Ensuring your drivers are well-rested improves safety for truckers while reducing risk for the fleet and everyone else on the road. To learn more about safety practices and reducing risk within your organization, contact the experts at Interstate Motor Carriers.