If You (Don’t) Snooze, You Lose
If you’re an expediter, you understand that temptation to fight through sleepiness. “I can do this,” you think. Drink coffee. Get fresh air. Splash cold water on the face. You run through your list of “quick fixes” to stay awake and on the road. After all, you scold yourself, miles equal money and if your wheels aren’t turning, you’re not earning.
But resist that urge to “tough it out” because it’s putting you and the public at risk of a major incident, like what happened on June 7, 2014, when a Wal-Mart truck driver, awake for 28 hours, slammed the tractor-trailer into a van on the Jersey Turnpike about 45 miles south of New York City, critically injuring comedian Tracy Morgan and killing another passenger.
This crash happened to make national news because of a famous victim, but it’s also indicative of a much larger issue that expediters must contend with -- sleep deprivation. The U.S. Department of Transportation says that driver fatigue is a leading cause of nearly 4,000 fatalities in large truck crashes each year. And the Natioznal Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes annually are the result of driver fatigue, leading to 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, $12.5 billion in monetary loss.
Drowsy Driving = Drunk Driving
What makes driver fatigue dangerous?
It impairs your judgment and driving ability, as if you were operating the truck while intoxicated. According to DrowsyDriving.org, an advocacy website produced by the National Sleep Foundation, a study by researchers in Australia found that being awake for 18 hours produced an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05, and .10 after 24 hours. As a frame of reference, .08 is considered legally drunk in most states in the U.S.
So, in the case of the Wal-Mart truck driver, being awake for 28 hours resulted in driving impairment comparable to a BAC well above legal limits and caused a catastrophic life-changing event for the driver, the victims, and their families -- all of which could have been prevented with sufficient sleep.
The Intangible Impacts
But a collision doesn’t have to occur before sleep deprivation impacts your business as an expediter. Consider these effects:
- Decision-making. When you’re tired, you’re less likely to make sound business decisions on which types of loads you should take. And poor load selection could mean that you unnecessarily put yourself in a position where you’re having to deadhead out of an area on your own dime, eating into your profits.
- Patience. Fatigue leads to impatient driving behaviors -- abrupt acceleration, braking, and lane changes -- which increase fuel costs, cause premature truck repairs, and increase safety risk.
- Productivity. Drowsiness can cause you to take longer to complete important tasks (such as paperwork and bookkeeping) or avoid doing them altogether, potentially hurting cash flow.
- Professionalism. When you’re fatigued, you’re more inclined to get frustrated, angry, and act irrationally (and unprofessionally) with customers, putting your reputation at risk.
Better Sleep Tips
With your safety record and the long-term success of your business at stake, how can you ensure that you get sufficient sleep to operate your truck safely and productively?
After all, the expedite lifestyle isn’t exactly ideal for getting quality sleep, especially if you operate as a team. You’re having to learn to sleep in a moving truck, often at odd hours, dealing with road noise, abrupt vehicle movements causing you to bounce off the mattress, and too much light creeping into the sleeper.
So, what can you do to improve sleep quality despite the challenges? Here are five tips.
1. Create a better sleep environment.
As you evaluate your sleeper quarters, address these factors that impact a good night’s (or day’s) sleep.
Mattress: Consider a memory foam mattress, which helps minimize the bouncing while the truck is in motion.
Light: Veteran team expediters Bob and Linda Caffee recommend using plastic chip clips (that seal potato chip bags) to ensure the curtains between the truck cab and sleeper stay shut, preventing light from coming in. Also, try using eye shades.
Temperature: Don’t try to “tough it out” with the sleeping quarters being too warm or chilly. Whether the truck is in motion or parked, the name of the game is to maintain a sleeper temperature that provides maximum comfort for the highest quality sleep.
Rattles: Instead of regular dishes, carry paper and plastic plates, utensils and cups. This way, you won’t be kept awake by dishes, glasses and silverware rattling as the truck travels down the road.
Road noise: You won’t be able to avoid road noise altogether but you can help block it out by using earplugs or downloading a “white noise” app to your smartphone.
The National Sleep Foundation offers this advice: “Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.”
3. Regulate caffeine intake.
Caffeine lasts for about five to six hours in the body before wearing off, says the National Sleep Foundation. So, minimize the effects of caffeine on your sleep by timing your last cup of coffee or any other caffeinated beverage about six hours before you plan to sleep.
4. Wind down.
Read a book or try other calming activities prior to bedtime. This will help quiet the mind and get you drowsy for quality sleep. While some people have no issue using electronic devices -- like an e-reader, smartphone or laptop -- prior to sleep, the National Sleep Foundation says that those devices emit a type of light that is activating to the brain, which could keep you awake. So, experiment to see what works o.k. for you.
5. Develop driving habits that help the non-driving partner sleep.
If you operate as a team, work with your partner so that you both drive in a way that won’t disturb each other’s sleep. Avoid rapid acceleration and hard braking. Ease into lane changes. Plan fuel stops with driver change, which helps minimize the number of stops that could wake the partner who is sleeping.
If you feel drowsy, pull over and stop as soon as possible. When you make quality sleep a top priority and resist the temptation to “tough it out,” you’ll protect yourself, the public and your financial future.