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How to Optimize Your Sleep Schedule like a Trucker

Getting a good night’s sleep is important for everyone, but it’s especially crucial for truck drivers. Not only do you need to be well-rested to stay safe on the road, but you also need to be alert and focused to meet your delivery deadlines. As you can imagine, truckers’ sleep schedules must be purposeful.

Ever wake up after 8 hours of sleep feeling tired? There’s a reason for that.  You see, according to studies, minutes matter more than hours when it comes to sleep quality. In fact, if you’d slept for 30 minutes less, you’d likely feel more refreshed, according to Dean Croke, principal analyst at DAT Freight & Analytics.

Croke, who has been teaching sleep science classes for truckers and shift workers for over two decades, knows a thing or two about sleep. His courses are designed to help these workers get better quality sleep with fewer hours in bed.

“We build biocompatible schedules, which are schedules designed around human sleep, as opposed to when the loads got to be there,” says Croke. “When you engineer sleep into a driver’s day, all sorts of good things happen. Well-rested drivers make about 10% more miles per week if they’re taught how to sleep.”

The benefits of this type of optimized sleep schedule are infinite, and these same principles used to help truckers improve their sleep can help anyone feel better rested.

Sleep in Cycles

Croke goes on to explain that there are different levels of sleep, and that many of us operate under the misconception that more sleep is better sleep, but he cautions that this is incorrect. Our brain sleep in cycles of about an hour and a half, and quality sleep comes from sleep architecture.

About 30 minutes after you drift off to sleep, the brain enters a phase of deep restorative sleep. During this stage, the body goes through a repair cycle and the immune system is bolstered. Deep sleep lasts between 30 and 75 minutes, after which your brain starts to wake up. You finish off that sleep cycle with a dream and rapid eye movement (REM).

According to Croke, “Deep sleep deals with the fatigue. REM sleep deals with memory and mood, archiving the memories and flushing out the brain of the things it doesn’t need.”

Timing of sleep is critical. If your alarm wakes you up from a cycle of deep sleep, you will have sleep inertia, which takes about 20 minutes to kick out of your brain before you can get going for the day.

Create a Sleep Schedule

Five 90-minute cycles are the ideal, but Croke says when you can’t get them all together, you can break them up, sleeping two cycles in a row and three cycles later in the day.

Croke says our bodies are programmed to sleep twice a day – at night and again about eight hours after you wake. The second sleep should be a 30-minute or a 90-minte nap to best take advantage of sleep cycles and avoid waking during a deep sleep phase.

“I teach people about the behavioral therapy aspects of sleep, which is, don’t stress about this,” he says. “You can also nap strategically.”

A schedule and a bedtime are important parts of a healthy sleep routine. Croke recommends truckers start work at the same time every day whenever possible, because when you have the same start time, by default, you have the same sleep time. “It creates an anchor sleep at the same time every day that helps you get good consistent sleep back-to-back,” he says.

Catch up on Weekends

According to Croke, if you have a week that wears you down, you can make up for it on the weekend.

“The brain is incredibly resilient,” he says. “You’ll bounce back quickly if you’ve got two periods of good sleep at the end of the week. I call it the ‘two and seven rule.’ Get two periods of consecutive sleep each week to get rid of the sleep debt from the previous week.”

After two periods of good sleep, the brain washes away that sleep debt, and you can start fresh once again.

“What happens to most people is they don’t get the two periods; they might get one,” says Croke. “There’s a residual sleep that Monday morning. And that adds to the sleep debt by the end of next week. And it gradually builds and builds and builds over time.”

Getting enough sleep is essential for everyone and especially for truckers—but it’s not always easy to get the rest you need on an irregular schedule. Sleep debt and sleep inertia can be especially dangerous for professional drivers. In fact, according to Croke, accidents often occur within the first hour back on the road after a rest break if the wasn’t properly timed.

“It’s because they woke from deep sleep, and the brain was still in the sleeper berth,” he says. “I teach drivers to sleep in blocks of an hour and a half. Seven hours of sleep is worse than six hours sleep because seven is not a multiple of an hour and a half.”

If you find yourself waking up groggy every morning, try out these pro tips to get the most of your sleep schedule. Optimizing your sleep can ensure you’re well-rested and ready to hit the road or take on the day.