Not getting enough sleep can cause fatigue and affect your ability to perform well on your job, especially driving. The NHTSA has found that about 91,000 police-reported crashes were from drowsy drivers, resulting in over 500,000 injuries and 800 deaths. Many factors can increase the risk of driver fatigue.
The Causes of Driver Fatigue
Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Drivers can experience fatigue because of restlessness during the night or not getting enough sleep. Some people try to get by on six or fewer while others may wake up often during the night.
Sleep disorders or medications that cause sleepiness or drowsiness can also cause driver fatigue. People who have sleep apnea – a sleep disorder – experience daytime sleepiness and sometimes the need to frequently wake up to use the bathroom.
People who work at night or have long shifts become fatigued. For night shift workers who sleep during the day, there is a higher likelihood of sleep disruption from light and noise. If a driver transitions to driving at night from driving during the day, they need some time to adjust to sleeping during the day before their body acclimates and they make the proper adjustments to their sleep environment.
The Effects of Fatigue on Drivers
Any driver can experience fatigue. Commercial truck drivers are more susceptible to fatigue than other drivers. Scheduling shifts interferes with their sleep cycles. If they’ve been driving at night and their shifts change to daytime, they may feel fatigued and are more likely to sleep behind the wheel.
While there are regulations that set a maximum time of driving and work hours for long haul drivers, they don’t account for differing sleep needs and overall health. Most jobs don’t have regulations that specify driver fatigue.
How can Drivers and Employers Prevent Driver Fatigue
For employers, the CDC recommends starting a fatigue risk management system (FRMS) to help lessen the effects of fatigue, promote the importance of sleep health among supervisors and workers, and uphold policies that delineate shifts and overtime. They can encourage their employees to take breaks and self-monitor for symptoms of fatigue. Wearable wristbands can also be useful to monitor signs of driver fatigue.
For drivers, get enough sleep before a long drive – about 7-9 hours every night – in a dark, quiet environment with no electronics. If you’re still experiencing fatigue after sufficient sleep, see a medical professional for any health issues related to your sleep.
While driving, if you’re feeling fatigued, the CDC suggests pulling over to take a quick 15-30 minute nap or drink coffee at a designated rest stop. These may help for a short while, but the only solution is sleep. If you see any symptoms of fatigue with yourself or coworkers, talk with your supervisor. Be honest if you’ve had an incident related to your fatigue. You and your supervisor can work out ways to help you get back on track with your sleep so you can perform better at your job.