Due to the sedentary lifestyles of many professional drivers, it is easy for them to be at risk for things such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses. Sleep deprivation affects many drivers across the nation and affects those who don’t practice healthy sleeping habits. Sleep deprivation for drivers can be a public safety hazard with fatigue being a cause for many crash-related deaths in the U.S. It also causes a delay in thinking, learning, problem-solving, reasoning; it can precede conditions such as heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes; and it can also lessen sex drive, cause depression, affect the aging of your skin, increase forgetfulness, and increase weight gain.
Sleep deprivation can exist separate from sleep apnea. Some people get so used to having “sleep debt” that they do not know what it feels like to be well-rested and focused from a full nights rest. Many drivers on the road stay up long hours at a time, and to stay awake use stimulants such as energy drinks, caffeine, alarms, external lights (for nighttime drivers), and electronic devices; all of which can interfere with their natural sleep cycle. It is not exact for everyone, but all adults ages 26 years old and older should be getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily so that the body and mind can function at its optimal capacity.
Sleep apnea on the other hand causes irregularity in breathing while asleep, sometimes making an individual more tired and drowsy. This can be associated with a variety of health issues. Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Breathing cessation
- Frequent awakenings with shortness of breath
- Dry mouth or a sore throat
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Attention problems
Many drivers who suffer from sleep apnea may not even know they have it. Some signs and symptoms can be witnessed by another person, but in the instances when no one else is around, how can we help? Rolling Strong knows the importance of total health and wellness, and one of those important facets of wellness is sleep. For our drivers who are on the road every day, it is important to us that we educate drivers on the importance of not only healthy eating and exercise but also how well they rest every day. The health of our drivers impacts not just their safety, but those of us who are on the road with them every day. Through education, we want to teach drivers:
- The importance of proper rest
- What can increase the risk of sleep apnea such as having excess weight, having a larger neck circumference, narrowed airways, being an older male, a family history
- Influence of smoking
- Influence of using alcohol
- Impact of any kind of heart disorders or stroke history
How to improve sleeping habits
One of the first things our CDL wellness coaches do is to encourage our drivers to assess their needs, and take note of how they feel getting certain hours of sleep. When do they feel energized? When do they feel the most tired? How many hours do they get of rest and how many hours allow them to feel at their optimal level or at their lowest level fatigue wise? We encourage drivers to pay attention to their mood and energy and health before and after good and poor days of rest. Other things we help drivers implement for more restful sleep are:
- To practice relaxation rituals before going to bed. Whether listening to music on the road while their partner takes their shift, reading a book, or just thinking of restful things prepping for sleep, can prepare the body and mind for a more restful state, helping to foster longer and more restful periods of sleep, even on the road.
- Exercising daily also helps facilitate rest and sleep. No matter how long a driver’s trip, time should always be made to get some fresh air, walk around the truck a few laps (or run a couple of laps if they can), doing strength training for 5-10 minutes in or out of the cab if possible is a great way to squeeze in some workouts while on the road as well.
- Stimulants such as coffee and other energy drinks often are “stealers of sleep”. Such stimulants can not only interfere with the natural sleep cycle but can also cause dehydration and energy crashes if other unnatural ingredients and sugar are included in those drinks.
Through education and resources, resting on the road for drivers should include a healthy, rested mind and body. This will help decrease any risks of fatigue and physical risks, keeping them and others safe on the road. We seek to teach our drivers that sleep must become a priority in a wellness plan and be included in everyday habits.
This article was originally featured on Rolling Strong.