December 15, 2020
Fatigue is probably the number one factor in truck accidents, from minor to catastrophic.
In fact, the Truck Crash Causation Study found that fatigued and overworked drivers made up the main reasons for most truck-related accidents. Fatigue can cause drivers to fall asleep, become inattentive, make incorrect decisions, or overcompensate in sudden situations.
Fatigue happens to all drivers, from ones just out of CDL truck driving school to those who have been driving for decades. It may be a fact of life in many professions, but in trucking, fatigue needs to be managed to lower the number and severity of truck-related accidents.
Here are 5 ways to manage--and avoid--fatigue
Most people would say that they are both overworked--and that they don’t get enough sleep. Americans, on the average, get 6.8 hours of sleep per night, less than the recommended levels of 7-9 hours.
No matter how many hours of sleep you get, however, the quality of the sleep matters also--and fatigue and sleepiness during the daytime may be a sign of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (or OSA).
OSA is a sleep disorder which causes airway obstruction during sleep--the breathing stops and starts. Throat muscles relax and block the airway, and snoring may be the most noticeable sign of OSA (not all snorers have OSA--it’s just noticeable).
Risk factors for OSA may include excessive weight, smoking, being male, diabetes, asthma, and family history.
OSA is marked by fatigue and daytime sleepiness, loud snoring, morning headaches, high blood pressure, as well as other symptoms.
If your life or truck driving team partner notices loud snoring, you might want to visit the doctor to check out the possibility of OSA. There are a number of devices which can alleviate OSA, including oral devices which keep the airway open while sleeping--many work very well, but can take getting used to.A number of convenient trucker and travel designed CPAP machines are also on the market. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines are fitting over your mouth and nose, and keep the airway open with a stream of air. The home versions can be bulky, but if you look around, you will find ones good for truckers.
You may think it’s difficult to eat well while you’re on the road--and it is. But it’s also really important to have a good diet while you are driving. What you eat will affect your sleep and therefore your fatigue level.
One solution is to make sure you take care of your own meals on the road. That may require a microwave, crockpot, and mini-fridge of some kind in your truck cab--hopefully your company will allow them.
Try to avoid pre packaged, frozen meals most of the time. I know some of them are tasty, but they are also over-salted to the point of unhealthiness. The salt can contribute to high blood pressure.
If you can do your own meals, you’ll avoid a lot of fried and processed foods. They are inflammatories, and inflammation appears to have a connection to fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome.
You’ll want to play around with foods which work best for you on the road and at home, but you should be able to come up with a good plan for yourself. Adding more vegetables and salads on the road helps most people.
You might want to consider eating a few more meals--making them smaller. That might be a bit difficult on the road depending on the trip schedule, especially if you have to wait to load/unload. Keeping a supply of healthy, tasty snacks in the truck will help keep you alert.
Eating at roughly the same time each day--as much as you possibly can--will help you manage the effects food might have on your fatigue level.
If you will be eating restaurant, plan ahead. If you have an internet plan on your cell phone, you can find a healthier place to stop when it’s time to eat.
Members of the military--as many truckers can testify--handle fatigue. One key thing to realize is that proper rest and sleep don’t come naturally in the workplace. It requires teamwork on the part of workers and employers.
Nap when you can--frequent naps can help keep you rested and focused. Many truckers do not like the required 30 minute break during the first 8 hours, but it’s not going away anytime soon. Use that 30 minutes to take a short nap as well as an exercise time.
Setting a schedule and sticking to it as much as possible is probably good for everyone in all walks of life. As much as possible, try to have the same schedule from day to day.
It can be difficult, because so many others have an influence on your time. But if you can rise daily at 5--especially if you ended the day at a truck stop--and get on the road by six, you will have plenty of time--in a normal day--to accomplish what needs to be done.
The best thing you can do is be more active--again, within the constraints of a schedule which is dictated by others.
It’s generally advisable for people to walk at least 10,000 steps per day--we are walkers. That’s between 4-5 miles, and for most people would take around at least 1.5 hours in one block of time.
One way to build in steps during the day is to park farther away from the building at truck stops. The distance will add up. Each break, walk for 5-10 minutes, and spend some time after you’re off the road walking around the rest area.
Be aware of your need to move--it will be better for your body overall, even if you can’t be perfect each day.
Even if you can’t readily add much walking into your schedule, you can find time for exercise. Move more!
15 minutes a day can be enough, if it’s vigorous enough--with your heart at about 75% of maximum heart rate. Eat after working out, and eat in a pattern which avoids binging--save the big meals for home time.
Logging what you eat and how you exercise will help you keep the intentional schedule of eating and exercise easier to manage. Carrying portable exercise gear with you will help, too. And be willing to let people stare at you--you’re the only one whose opinion matters.
The trucking life is a good one. You can make an excellent living starting shortly after completing CDL truck driving school, whether in Tacoma or Orlando, and you want to be able to enjoy--with your family--that good living.
Taking these five steps to change your life--intentionally acting to ensure you avoid fatigue--and you will be able to enjoy that good life.