Sleep is arguably the most important factor in maintaining a healthy body and mind. Without it, our minds become sluggish, and our bodies weary. HGV drivers are often working long shifts and on the road for many hours, so it is crucial for their physical and mental health that they take breaks and get the sleep that they need during in-between and overnight stopovers.
Most adults need between 7–9 hours of sleep per night, according to the Sleep Council. Getting the right amount of rest is essential for our long-term health and mental performance, and when we don’t get enough over a consistent period, our overall alertness and concentration is badly affected. If we’re starved of sleep for long enough, the neurons in our brain stop functioning properly, leading to temporary mental lapses and reduced reaction times.
Sleep for the Body
Not getting enough sleep can seriously impair your health. In addition to the common side effects, a lack of sleep over a prolonged period of time can cause cardiovascular problems; lead to obesity and Type-2 diabetes; and reduce immune system functioning.
Getting plenty of high-quality sleep, on the other hand, is very healthy. Your body is getting enough time to heal damaged cells, lower your blood pressure, and boost your immune system as well as making sure it is properly regulated.
If you have any infections or feel ill, sleep is your body’s chance to do the repairs that it needs to do. Most of the physical benefits of sleep occur during NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, which makes up around 75% of your total sleep.
Sleep for the Mind
Sleep is also directly related to your mood, and in the long term, to your mental health. If you don’t get enough sleep for one or two nights, you may notice yourself getting grumpy and irritable. Lack of sleep over long periods can be a factor in depression in anxiety.
The other type of sleep is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This makes up around 25% of total sleep. You may already know that it is during this time that we dream, even if you don’t remember having one. Dreams help us to process our emotions, memories and reduce the stresses of the day. It’s important to get a good night’s sleep so that you get time in both NREM and REM sleep. This way, your body and mind can recover fully, and you will wake up the next day feeling refreshed.
Not getting enough sleep affects your ability to perform physical and mental tasks. After a bad night’s sleep, you may notice that you have difficulty with concentration, as well as absorbing and processing information. If you drive for a living, it’s especially important that you get a good night’s sleep, falling asleep at the wheel or even driving drowsy could have serious repercussions. A report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that drivers who only got 5-6 hours of sleep (as opposed to the optimal 7-9 hours) were 1.9 times more likely to be involved in an accident than those who got 7 hours sleep or more. Those who got less than 4 hours sleep were 11.5 times more likely to be in an accident.
What Can You Do to Improve Your Sleep Habits?
When it comes to getting enough sleep, there’s only so much an employer can do. As a driver, you have a personal responsibility to be well-rested on the job and must do what you can to try and get the best sleep possible.
If you are struggling to get the recommended amount of sleep, then there are a number of things that can help:
Optimising sleeping environment: Blackout blinds or curtains can be especially helpful for shift workers.
Ensuring bedding is comfortable: A mattress should support the hips and spine completely, and a pillow should keep the neck in alignment with the body. Natural-fibre bed linen can also help keep the body cool at night.
Consider a daylight lamp: Daylight lamps can boost natural waking. They’re especially useful for shift workers, who may need to get up at night.
Reduce blue light before bed: The blue light on our phones and computers interferes with the body’s circadian rhythm, so electricals should be swapped for a book at least an hour before bed.
Learn more about your unique sleep pattern: We’re all different, so you should pay attention to your own unique needs. For instance, some people can fall asleep very easily, while other people are more sensitive to caffeine, alcohol or certain foods, which can keep them awake. You need to know your own body and try to avoid things you know will keep you up.
Maintain the rhythm: It is also important to maintain your sleep habits whilst at home or on days off. This will make it easier to get the correct amount of sleep when you return to work and avoid having to reintroduce yourself to a certain sleep pattern.
If all these measures fail, or you should feel tired on the road, you should drink some caffeine and take a short nap which can provide a burst of energy during a long shift. Studies have shown napping after caffeine can boost your energy more than normal upon waking. You should also know what you can do if a lack of sleep is becoming a problem, including reporting it to your manager and seeking medical treatment.