You've finally settled down into your bunk after a long, hard day of driving. You're on the verge of falling asleep when suddenly, something jolts you back awake. From then on, you have difficulty falling back to sleep. If you've been working as a truck driver for a while, I'm sure something similar has happened to you before.
When you're trying to get some sleep in a truck, there are many things that can cause disruption - lights, sounds, movements/vibrations, comfort, and food and drink can all cause insomnia. When you're responsible for driving a truck for 8+ hours a day, being fully rested is crucial both for your safety and the safety of other motorists. So what's the best way to get some shut-eye with so many outside influences cutting into your beauty sleep?
Increasing Quality of Sleep
To increase the quality of your sleep, you might consider doing some of the following as they apply to you:
Block Out Light
Light is one of the biggest culprits of lost sleep because it is inconsistent with your normal circadian rhythm. See, your body knows that it's supposed to sleep when it's dark outside, so trying to rest during the day or when it's especially bright in your cab throws your internal clock off. To minimize the effect that light has on your sleeping schedule, try closing the cab curtains, hanging blackout curtains, and putting sun shades in your windshield. Also try to limit your exposure to electronic gadgets like TVs and computers before bed as the lighting they emit (even small standby lighting) can make it difficult to fall asleep. Consider investing in a sleep mask to block out any outside light from keeping you awake.
We all know how difficult it is to sleep when something or someone is making a bunch of racket. To minimize and mute noise emanating from truck stops (or wherever else you may be parked), park as far away from other trucks and vehicles as you can. This way, you can avoid disruptive noises like idling and braking. Turn off your QualComm and CB radio, and use earplugs or white noise machines to help lull you to sleep. White noise machines are those devices that play the soothing sounds of thunder, rainfall, and ocean waves. They make alarm clocks that include white noise settings. There are even white noise iPhone and Android apps now that will shut off after a set amount of time so as not to waste your phone's battery life. Set the app to play for an hour or so until you fall asleep.
Minimize Movement (as much as possible)
One of the things that makes it most difficult to sleep is an excess amount of movement or vibration coming from outside your truck (or inside, say if you have a pet or co-driver). To minimize movement and vibrations, avoid parking on highway ramps where vehicles speed by you. If you're part of a truck driver team and you're trying to catch some zzz's while your teammate is driving, there's not much you can do except get used to the feeling of the truck moving down the highway It wll take time to adjust to the movement, but it can be done.
Control your truck's thermostat to maximize comfort inside your cab while you're trying to sleep. An ideal sleeping temperature is somewhere between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a mattress pad or topper to make your bed a little more cozy. This will also help to absorb some movement vibrations.
Regularly exercising during the day can do wonders for the quality of sleep you get at night. Do some kind of workout before you take off or after you stop for the day. Walk around the parking lot. Go for a run. Use dumbbells in your cab -- anything to get a little physical activity. Refrain from working out right before bed, as that can have the opposite effect and can keep you awake at night (too much adrenaline coursing through your body).
Having a great co-driver can make a world of difference in the quality of sleep you get inside your truck. Your co-driver needs to be trustworthy. Spouses are a common choice in co-drivers - if you're married, it's likely that you trust each other (I hope). If you're driving with someone new, it may take you some time before you're fully comfortable sleeping for an extended period of time while they're driving. This is perfectly normal and just part of making the adjustment to the trucking lifestyle.
Regardless of if your teammate is someone you've known for years or someone you're just getting to know, be sure to spend some time getting to know one another. You'll find that having respect for eachother will often lead to a better environment not only for driving together, but also sleeping.
Sleeping Aids & Tools
If you find that you need more help falling asleep when it comes time for your rest break, there are several sleep aids that can help. Consider noise blocking headphones or earplugs if you're constantly being woken or if you have a rude co-driver who doesn't respect your beauty sleep. White noise machines, as discussed above, are great for cancelling out outside noises. Sleeping masks block out a significant amount of incoming light, and extra mattress pads create a nice, cozy bunk that's sure to quickly lull you to sleep. It's much easier to fall asleep when there's a black hole of relaxation calling your name! Also, reading a book before bed helps many people sleep well.
Stay away from taking sleeping pills and medications like Nyquil regularly. These can have one of two detrimental effects on you. The first is that they can cause a dependancy, meaning you won't be able to sleep without taking them. But they could also have the opposite effect - you could form a resistance or immunity to them. There's not much sense in taking sleeping pills if they won't put you to sleep, is there? Medical sleeping aids should only be taken in extreme cases, and you should not make a habit of them.
Sleep is important to everyone, but when you're operating an 80,000 pound vehicle, it's essential that you get the recommended amount of rest to ensure that you don't cause an accident. Skimping out on sleep will only lead to danger, so it's imperative that you do everything in your power to make it restful and minimize all possible interruptions.
Do you have any truck driver tips on maximizing the quality of your shut eye on a semi truck? Leave your suggestions in the comments!
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