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How does the wake-sleep cycle affect a truck driver?

Have you ever experienced a lull around 3:00 in the afternoon when you feel like taking a nap? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration keeps track of issues that can adversely affect truck drivers, and one of those is the lull caused by the body's wake-sleep cycle.

What studies reveal

The FMCSA conducts a variety of studies to find out what affects the performance of commercial truck drivers. For example, one study found that drivers who skip meals are more prone to fatigue and may not sleep well if they go to bed on an empty stomach. In fact, fatigue behind the wheel is an ongoing concern. Another study showed that safety is a factor in the first hour of driving and that sleep inertia appears to play a role. This is especially true for drivers who sleep in the berths of their trucks; they may begin driving too soon after waking. Their reflexes may be slow, their judgment impaired, and they may have trouble trying to stay awake.

Paying attention to the circadian rhythm

Like all drivers, professional truckers could react to the circadian rhythm, the wake-sleep cycle that affects everyone. This involves the operation of the body's internal clock and controls the level of alertness at various times of the day and night. Alertness wanes at night and there is a lull between midnight and 6:00 a.m. when natural drowsiness occurs. A similar lull in the circadian rhythm happens between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. The FMCSA found that the level of alertness for truck drivers relates to the time of day, and the agency advises drivers affected by "lulls" to pull over and take a nap.

Safety first

In 2013, crashes with big rigs in the Lone Star State resulted in 493 fatalities, the highest such number in the country. Nationwide, the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks increased from 4,074 in 2015 to 4,213 in 2016. This is why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration devotes so much time to understanding issues that affect drivers and safety on the road. No one can change the body's wake-sleep cycle, but knowing how best to deal with it could help save lives. 

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