Sleeping sickness: What professional drivers can do to combat constant fatigue

    It is alarming. Far too many drivers are still on the road when they are already too tired to be driving. And the bigger the vehicle, the greater the damage in the event of a driver losing control of their vehicle. As part of the “Caution Microsleep” campaign, the opinion research institute Kantar Emnid surveyed 353 truck drivers and found that nearly half of them (46%) had already fallen asleep at least once at the wheel.

    Eighty-five percent of respondents believe that they can predict the time when they fall asleep. This is not so. Tests in driving simulators, where the tired drivers were connected to EEGs and filmed, clearly show that you often do not even notice when your brain switches to microsleep.

    There are different forms of tiredness

    On monotonous routes, the brain gets tired after about 30 minutes – even if the driver is actually well rested. In this case, it helps to keep the driver awake and alert for example by listening to an exciting audiobook or listening to music. However, if you are tired and need to drive a complicated route, it is better to leave the radio off, otherwise you will not be able to concentrate enough.

    Some things do not help with fatigue due to lack of sleep

    You feel that your eyes are starting to close, so you wind down the window and reach for the energy drink? Unfortunately, these immediate actions do not help at all. Cold air can be a short shock, and the caffeine and sugar from the drink give you a short kick – but that’s just a boost of a few moments. If you have not had enough sleep, there is only one thing that actually helps.

    In case of lack of sleep stop and power nap

    If you have not slept enough or the last time you slept was a long time ago, there is no other remedy than more sleep. If it is impossible to take a longer break, you should at least take the time for a power nap. Close your eyes for 15 to 20 minutes. Do this for no more than 30 minutes, as otherwise you will sleep too deeply and won’t be able to wake up quickly enough and continue driving. It is especially helpful if you drink a cup of coffee immediately before closing your eyes. By the time the caffeine reaches your brain, about half an hour passes. This enables you to shut down your body briefly and relax your brain, and when you wake up, the caffeine boost does the rest.

    Do not resume driving immediately after waking up

    We always overestimate ourselves directly after waking up. Even if we feel immediately fit and ready to go, we are often a bit slow. Therefore, you should not resume driving as soon as you open your eyes. It is better if you give your legs a quick stretch and get plenty of fresh air. Doing this will ensure that you are really fully awake. The ideal procedure for a rest period in case of lack of sleep thus looks like this:

    1. You drink coffee.
    2. You sleep 20 minutes.
    3. You walk for a few minutes to get over the sluggishness and drowsiness.

    What haulage companies can do

    Many a driver will now think that this sounds all very well and good in theory, but in real life on the road they have no time for these power naps. And this is where the haulage companies come into play. It is up to them to make realistic plans that will allow drivers to take breaks, even when traffic is not ideal. After all, it is also to their benefit if their drivers deliver the cargo safely to their destination. Apart from that, rested drivers are more economical than overtired drivers. Due to tiredness, drivers who are not concentrating use about one litre more fuel per 100 km than drivers who are awake and concentrating.
    It would also be desirable if haulage companies could offer seminars for their drivers on how to deal with the drowsiness on the road – after all, an accident can potentially have several nasty consequences. In addition to possible injuries to the driver, the loss of the cargo and the damage to the vehicle, the driver can also be sentenced to up to five years imprisonment or face a large fine under Section 315 c of the Criminal Code.

    How you can tell that you urgently need to stop

    Tiredness on the road can manifest itself in many ways. Does it seem to you that the road is getting narrower and narrower while you stare into space as if hypnotised? Then you are almost asleep. In addition to the usual signs such as itchy eyes and uncontrollable yawning, inattention is a sign of tiredness. If you miss exits or signs, it’s time to stop. If you find it difficult to keep in lane, the microsleep already has you firmly in its grips. Also, an extremely bad mood can be an indication of tiredness – you feel that everyone should leave you alone, and especially the driver in front of you.

    This is how you sleep better

    Often the drowsiness at the wheel is due to the fact that your normal night sleep is not as restful as it should be. There are a few rules that can help make you sleep better:

    • Get into a regular routine, so if possible, always go to bed at the same time.
    • Make the place you sleep as dark as possible.
    • If possible, ensure a comfortable temperature.
    • Do not drink coffee or alcohol in the evening.
    • Do not eat right before bed.
    • Do not exercise before bedtime.
    • Get used to quiet rituals – read for example.
    • Avoid TV, tablets, mobile phones and e-readers: the bluish light from their screens stimulates the brain and makes it difficult to fall asleep.
    • If your body is tense, autogenic training exercises help
    • When falling asleep, think of something nice.

    Summary: You cannot trick your body

    No miracle remedies help against the lack of concentration due to fatigue. You have no choice but to allow your body the sleep it needs. With a little practice, you can draw a lot of energy from power napping. Otherwise, it helps most if your normal sleep is as restful, calm and deep as possible. Section 20a of the Driving Personnel Regulations stipulates that the haulage companies must plan the routes for their drivers in such a way that they can observe the legal regulations on breaks.

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