Drowsy truckers, time of day and the circadian rhythm

Commercial truck drivers spend a great deal of time on the road. Long hours can lead to monotony, which can lead to drowsiness.

However, there is more to the issue of drowsy driving than you would think, including time of day and circadian rhythm.

Reacting to the cycle

Every day and every night, our bodies go through a natural wake-sleep cycle called the circadian rhythm, which regulates our internal clock and our level of alertness. Drivers, especially truckers who spend long hours on the road, may feel drowsiness associated with lulls in this natural rhythm.

The time of day study

A study of driving behaviors performed by The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration showed that time of day has a pronounced effect on the level of alertness. Most drivers are less alert at night, especially after midnight, and those who have been behind the wheel for an extended period find it more difficult to remain attentive. The FMCSA also found that a “safety-critical” event is more likely to occur in the first hour after a driver wakes from sleep. The researchers hypothesize that sleep inertia is present at this time, and various performance tasks such as cognitive functioning, vigilance and reaction time are adversely affected.

The quick fix does not help

If a driver feels drowsy, he or she may open the window for some fresh air, turn up the radio, drink coffee or light a cigarette in the effort to stay awake. However, none of these alertness tricks provides the lasting energy and level of alertness required to drive a big rig safely. The trucker may be experiencing a lull in the circadian rhythm, and napping from 10 to 45 minutes is the most effective remedy for drowsiness.

Avoiding disaster

Because of the size and weight of a big rig, a truck-car crash can be devastating. The driver of the truck might survive, but the driver of the car might not. Drowsiness is not a condition to take lightly, and truckers need to take common-sense steps to avoid effects caused by the natural wake-sleep cycle and related issues.