When Ray Martinez, then administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, began his hours of service reform push in 2018, “flexibility” soon became his mantra as he received industry feedback. Much of that emphasis related to productivity.
The rule that resulted, taking effect Sept. 29, in its split-sleeper-berth provisions allows a driver to exclude a two- to three-hour off-duty period from counting against the 14-hour clock. That yields a potential two-three hours of on-duty time that can’t be achieved under the current rule. Instead, the incentive has been to avoid taking those hours off-duty and continue working. In many cases, that short period would have been used for sleep, so the safety ramification is obvious.
While the new rule’s flexibility addresses the immediacy of the fatigue problem, there’s also a potential longer-range benefit. That’s the health improvement that comes from napping when it’s truly needed. The benefits go beyond fatigue reduction: improvements in mood, reaction time and memory, says the Mayo Clinic.
Avoiding the flipside – getting inadequate sleep too often and missing opportunities to compensate with a nap – is just as important. “The cumulative long-term effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been associated with a wide range of deleterious health consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke,” says a National Academy of Sciences report.
It notes two general causes of sleep loss: sleep disorders and lifestyle/occupational patterns. Many long-haul drivers hit the jackpot here.
They are more prone to obstructive sleep apnea, due largely to the sedentary nature of professional driving and a tendency toward obesity. And the lifestyle/occupational realities of sleep for over-the-road drivers are similar to, if not worse than, what’s experienced by those regularly working in the wee hours.
Like any physical problem worth its salt, there’s a name and acronym for those having a sleep problem due to working split shifts, graveyard shifts or rotating shifts: shift work sleep disorder. Not only is the SWSD victim tired a lot, but sleep doesn’t refresh him or her as well as it should, pointing again to the need for napping.
“The Cleveland Clinic estimates that between 10 to 40 percent of shift workers experience SWSD,” said a report on healthline.com. “Those who have regularly shifting schedules are most likely to be affected.”
FMCSA, in its cost/benefit analysis of the rule, reviews studies on drivers’ sleep, including a pre-2003 study that found drivers were getting a paltry 5.2 hours per night. Later studies “show that long-haul truck drivers are, on average, getting more sleep than they did prior to the HOS rule change in 2003,” says FMCSA’s report. That’s good news, though other sleep science shows that as people age beyond 40 – a disproportionately large part of the long-haul driver force – they are less able to adapt their sleep habits to constantly changing schedules.
One of the studies FMCSA cited “confirmed that total sleep time per 24-hour period is what is most important to reduce fatigue and improve performance. Rest breaks, and especially naps, are an important tool in combating fatigue, and FMCSA encourages their use.”
Under the new hours rule, interruptions and frequent change will still be the rule, not the exception, for most long-haulers’ schedules. At least the rule takes some control away from a clock and passes it to the operator, boosting not just productivity but also health.