You Can’t Cheat Sleep

If you have any of these symptoms, pull off the road and shut your eyes for a few minutes or more:
*Your eyes close or go out of focus by themselves.
*You have trouble keeping your head up.
*You can’t stop yawning.
*You have wandering thoughts.
*You don’t remember driving the past few miles.
*You drift between lanes, tailgate or miss signs.
*You have drifted off the road.

You can say that you’re used to being up at all hours of the night, so you can tough it through another sleep-deprived run. But the truth is that your body demands enough sleep. Because many types of hauling require driving through the night, adjusting your sleep schedule and dealing with lots of stress, it’s likely that you’ll experience a sleep disorder if you haven’t already.

Whether it’s too much or not enough sleep, or not enough of the right type, any sleep disorder can cause you to drive drowsy. The effect is similar to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs because it slows reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment. Long-term symptoms of sleep disorders include sleepiness, irritability, low motivation, low energy and weight gain.

You might have learned to cope with erratic sleep, but this is merely a learned habit. The body responds to natural cycles, including daylight and darkness, and an internal clock programs you to feel sleepy at night and active during the day. Most adults need approximately eight hours of sleep, ideally starting about 10 p.m.

Get less sleep – even one hour less per night – than needed, and you develop a sleep debt. If this debt becomes too great, it can produce the symptoms of chronic sleepiness, even if you do not feel sleepy.

According to SleepQuest, a sleep care specialty firm that has worked with carriers such as Dart Transit and Star Transport on sleep education and treatment, fewer than 5 percent of people with sleep disorders are diagnosed and treated.

One common disorder is sleep apnea, in which people stop breathing when they sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night, often for a minute or longer. Your risk increases if you are male, overweight and older than 40, which means many truckers are prime candidates. Sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, headaches and chronic sleepiness. This condition can be treated, so see a doctor if you suspect this or other sleep-related problems.

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Here are a few habits that can help you sleep better:

  • Cut down on stimulant consumption, particularly caffeine after lunch.
  • Finish your evening meal by 6 or 6:30 p.m., so your digestive processes can be at rest when you go to bed.
  • Skip television in the evening. Television stimulates your neurological system with flashing colors, sharp noises and compelling emotional images.
  • Give your mind a focus to keep it from wandering to your problems. One method is to repeat a comforting word or phrase with each breath.

New research from Harvard Medical School indicates frequent, small amounts of caffeine promote wakefulness better than one huge cup in the morning. The research concludes that people might fight drowsiness better by drinking about a quarter cup of coffee frequently throughout the day instead of a huge jolt of caffeine in the morning.

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