Study casts light on optimal driver sleep schedules

The life of a truck driver often involves long trips and traveling through the night. While innovations such as fleet tracking systems and software help fleet owners keep better track of where drivers are on their routes, it may be difficult - if not impossible - to know if their truckers are getting adequate sleep during the right time of the day. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wanted to know if truckers were able to get the same quality of  rest while sleeping during the day as they do at night, as well as if splitting up sleep into five-hour segments is as effective as sleeping for 10 straight hours. To find the answer, they enlisted renowned sleep expert Dr. Greg Belenky, of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University, to study sleeping habits.

Sleeper berth rule needs to change
Trucking advocates have been pleading with the FMCSA for more versatility in when and how drivers use their sleeper berths. The survey results could shed some light on how drivers can rest more efficiently without negatively impacting their productivity when on their routes.

"This new research report is the third study in the last five years to arrive at the some conclusion," Dave Osiecki, senior vice president of the American Trucking Associations, said in an email to Heavy Duty Trucking magazine. "That is, drivers should be given greater flexibility in how they may rest using a sleeper berth."

The current regulations require drivers to spend at least eight hours in their sleeper berth, and take another rest period of at least two hours. The study's findings suggest that these rules are too limiting. 

Sleeping during the day found least effective
The study examined people who slept in one 10-hour segment at night, while another group split their sleep into two 5-hours periods during the day. Those who were able to sleep during the night were more alert and well-rested than those who slept during the day. This research shows sleeping in the berth during the day is less effective for drivers.

"Compared to consolidated sleep opportunities placed at night or split sleep, placement of a consolidated sleep opportunity during the day yielded truncated sleep and increased sleepiness," according to the study.

People are used to sleeping at night, and therefore, will get poorer quality sleep during the day, according to the study. Current regulations on drivers require them to rest at least 10 hours before carrying out a 14-hour shift, during which they are expected to be on the road for at least 11 hours. With the study's findings in mind, the FMCSA may want to change these rules around to allow drivers to get more sleep during the night, and less throughout the day in split sleep schedules. In the meantime, the results could prompt some fleet managers to try adjusting driver schedules with the help of route optimization software that helps identify driver swap opportunities.