Stay Healthy on the Road

No Sleep Cycle for the Long-Hauler

Being a long-haul driver is not for the faint of heart. Drivers are constantly under a variety of enormous pressures. One of the most consistent challenges is getting enough sleep. Meeting an ever and sometimes drastically changing schedule leaves no room for a rhythmic sleep cycle forcing drivers to “sleep” whenever and however they can. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average driver is getting somewhere around 5 hours of sleep or less each day! This is far below the minimum of 7 hours recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

In addition to demanding work schedules, other sleep disorders can magnify this frankly life-threatening challenge, like Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) or insomnia for starters. One Harvard study sites that drivers with undiagnosed OSA, or drivers who do not follow recommendations for their OSA are five times more likely to cause a crash. An estimated nearly 20% of all large truck accidents are believed to be fatigue-related, causing over 9,000 deaths and 220,000 serious injuries. Operating in this slumber deprived red zone also greatly increases the risks of developing physical and psychological problems. And no, there is not enough coffee in the world to make right all those missed hours of sleep.

The Destructive Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Why is sleep so important to our physical and psychological well-being? In short, we don’t know. The answer to this question remains elusive even to the world’s top scientists. What they do know is that when we don’t get enough sleep- bad things happen to our bodies, particularly our minds, hearts, endocrine (hormone) system, and immune system. For adults, sleep deprivation symptoms begin to kick in after only 16-18 hours of wakefulness – it’s far less for children depending on age. The consequences of chronic sleep deprivation magnify over time with cumulative damaging effects. Yet even one all-nighter will wreak havoc leaving behind real damage. Let’s break it down.

The Mind: Acute sleep deprivation, like an all-nighter, can dampen your faculties to the equivalent of being legally drunk. Push it further and stay awake more than 35 hours- your emotional mind with start to behave erratically. Stay up for 48 hours or more and you enter the realm of hallucinations and psychosis. Stay awake for a few days and the results can be lethal.

The Heart: Our blood pressure rises throughout the day and resets while we sleep- making sleep a natural blood pressure medication. Without an adequate daily dose, your blood pressure can steadily climb and your risk of heart attack, stroke, and long-term heart disease sky-rocket. In fact, studies show that when we lose an hour of sleep during the spring daylight savings change, heart attack cases increase by 25%. The reciprocal is true for the fall when we gain an hour of sleep, heart attack cases decline by 21% -clearly linking sleep to heart health.

The Endocrine System: Sleep is essential to the production of hormones. Current research is fortifying a strong correlation between sleep and a modern health epidemic – type 2 diabetes. It appears if you get too little sleep you are at a greater risk of developing the disease, and if you get too much sleep you are also at a greater risk. The hypothesis is that it disrupts your circadian rhythm or biological clock. In turn, these disturbances cause the body to become less responsive to insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. In a different example, if a young man is awake for more than 18 hours his testosterone will slowly deplete. Good news, it will bounce back if followed by a good night’s rest. Long term sleep deprivation is not so forgiving. Studies show that a male who only gets five hours of sleep for one week will decrease their testosterone levels by as much as 15%. A typical male will deplete 1-2% of his testosterone per year. In other words, one week of bad sleep will effectively age you a decade.

The Immune System: After being awake for 18 hours the body begins building up pro-inflammatory proteins like IL-6, which is associated with chronic illness and heart disease. In addition, your body dramatically slows down production of natural killer cells (immune cells that fight cancer and viruses) by 70%, prompting the World Health Organization to deem chronic sleep deprivation a probable carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) in 2007.

Sleep for Your Life

You can not survive without sleep. It is that important. Quality shut-eye is one of nature’s best remedies. When we get enough sleep we have better general health, better mood, better weight control, better memory and learning skills, lower risk of injury, a healthier heart, and a stronger immune system. In summary, consistent adequate sleep directly correlates with a longer healthier life.

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