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Health on the Road: Breaking down the sleep problem

10.17.2019 - 3:37 PM Comments: 0

Sleep is one of the most necessary factors when trying to be productive while at work. And in the trucking industry, getting ample rest can make a substantial difference in long term health for long haul truck drivers.

The fact of the matter is this: getting in some quality sleep can help drivers avoid health issues such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and early mortality according to studies conducted at Harvard Medical School. 

According to Orlando Dot Physicals, being in the trucking profession alone contributes to a shorter lifespan, as truckers’ life expectancy is 16 years lower than the national average. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has done research on why life expectancy is so low for drivers and found that truck drivers tend to be obese, have high blood pressure, diabetes, smoke cigarettes, and do little physical activity. 

In a study conducted in 2014 by the CDC, 61 percent of the long haul drivers reported having two or more of the following risk factors: hypertension, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, no physical activity, and getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep per 24-hr period.

All these issues—while still aggravated by a poor lifestyle—can be positively affected by getting a good night's sleep. 

Nonetheless, in the same 2014 report, the CDC found that among 1,670 long haul drivers, 69 percent were obese and 51 percent were smokers. Additionally, 51 percent of these drivers reported getting between 6 and 8 hours of sleep nightly and 26.5 percent slept for 6 hours or less. 

Almost every study conducted on sleep will tell you that it greatly affects work productivity and your overall health, but when you contextualize the day-to-day duties of a truck driver, it becomes clear that the job itself does not facilitate getting rest.

Truck drivers seldom have ample opportunities to get quality sleep, in part due to the fast-paced nature of the industry. Sleep schedules are also nearly impossible to establish—one day you’ll pick up a load at 6 a.m., while other days you won’t find one until 2 p.m, which can create inconsistent sleep patterns.

And with 38 percent of drivers in the CDC study saying that they’re uninsured, the issue may only continue to get worse.

In addition, while 10 hours of off-duty time are required after driving 11 hours a day, those 10 hours can quickly be cut in half depending on the driver's responsibilities. 

As described by TruckerMike, a driver on TruckingTruth.com, the issue of finding sleep is multifaceted and does not have a clear cut answer.

“Shippers and receivers can often take 4 hours or more to finish loading or unloading. So that 10-hour break normally reserved for sleeping, quickly turns into 6 hours,” said the driver in a blog post. “Add on another hour to find a parking spot, another 30 minutes to grab a shower, and maybe if there's time, another 30 minutes to grab a meal. Where did that 10-hour break go? Four hours of sleep is sometimes all you get.”

The expectation by companies and carriers for drivers to get to their destination as soon as possible also does not help the issue. While drivers can technically take as much time as they’d like to catch up on sleep, it could create issues for companies and dispatchers who demand their drivers to stay on a strict schedule.

There’s a couple of ways that drivers can try and dedicate their 10-hour break for resting, though. By using personal conveyance, which allows drivers to use their truck while off-duty, drivers can safely find somewhere to wash their clothes, eat, or take a shower without violating their on-duty time. This could theoretically allow drivers to use their 10-hour break to get better rest.

Ultimately, there is no answer that will work for every driver. But considering the aforementioned statistics, finding time to get some proper sleep can be a life-altering change for an enormous contingent of truck drivers.

So what do you think? Should companies, carriers, and the FMCSA be more mindful of driver health? Let us know in the comment or on social media!

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