How to Sleep Better
as a Professional Truck Driver
If you drive a truck for a living (particularly
haul) and would
like to sleep better when you retire for your mandatory rest break each
day or night, you
may benefit from the info we
have assembled on this page.
As we will describe, we have personally
used or benefited from numerous points below.
The main advantages of getting good restorative sleep
are not only
for the sake of your health, but also for the sake of your job. Part of
the reason why the Hours of Service regulations are in place is so that
professional truck drivers will have enough time to sleep so as not to
become drowsy or fatigued behind the wheel and cause
There are those who persist in saying that the
number of truck accidents due to fatigue is higher than it is. The
Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) put this to
rest in October 2010, saying that, "... fatigued driving
was coded as a factor in only 1.4 percent of fatal large truck crashes
However, we think you would agree with us that even one accident due to
a professional truck driver not having been able to sleep better is one
There are many challenges to being able to
sleep better in a truck, none of which is helped by the fact that you
in a different location
different surroundings. You may be kept awake -- or awakened from sleep
any number of things. These are some of the common sleep inhibitors and
interrupters for truckers:
health issues; and
food and drink issues.
Factors that cause one
person not to sleep better may not affect another and vice
versa. So, we're going to address each of these items individually and
Now we must issue the disclaimer that part of
the challenge that many professional drivers face is finding truck
parking to begin with.
This can be very frustrating in the northeastern USA because there are
too few spaces for the trucks running up there. But assuming that you
do find a place each night, here are tips on how to sleep better.*
To Sleep Better,
Extinguish Exposure to Light
Block as much light out
your truck as possible. Pull all of your curtains closed (cab and
sleeper) for maximum darkness. You can put a sun shade next to
your windshield to block even more light. Window tinting is illegal in
some states, so we don't recommend that at all.
Limit your exposure to
light coming from television and computer screens right before bedtime.
You may wish to occupy yourself with reading a book to unwind.
Eliminate all sources of
light, especially from electronic gadgets like clock radios,
CPAP machines, indicator lights, etc. We
have already reported the problems associated being able to sleep
better as long as a blue
light is on in a truck.
If necessary, wear a sleep mask
cover your eyes at night.
Not knowing the difference between masks,
Vicki purchased one in a beauty supply store years ago and tried it a
few times, but
it kept coming off her head in the night. If a
higher quality sleep
mask will help you
sleep better, you might want to explore that option.
If you find you have to
rise in the middle of the night, try to keep
the area in which you're moving as dark as possible.
To Sleep Better,
Remove or Reduce Sounds
To help reduce as
much sound or noise as possible from coming into your truck from
outside -- sounds such as trucks rolling past or the pulling
of air brakes when a driver has parked nearby -- aim to
park (if possible) as far away from other trucks as you can,
but still in a safe and secure location. Even oversized loads that
straddle two places often have other trucks parked nearby.
Avoid places where your
likely to get knocked on in the night. Even public rest areas
or service plazas are not immune to folks who like to keep
"company" at night. (We'll share a couple of stories about that below.)
If possible, avoid going to
customers who wake you up -- or require you to get up -- in the middle
of your rest break. Some facilities have a practice of bringing their
unloading crews in at 3 or 4 in the morning!
Turn the sound on your
(satellite communications device) all the way down (or off). (We'll
share a story about
If necessary, find and
wear a good pair of ear
plugs when you sleep.
Vicki wears a pair of ear plugs
every night --
whether in the truck or out. She was
amazed when she visited a firing range once just how much sound some
plugs can block. They vary a bit, but Vicki has used both Hearos
Ear Plugs, Xtreme Protection Series and Flents
Quiet Time Soft Comfort Ear Plugs -- both of
which are available in some drug stores or the
pharmacy area of some department stores. Look in the "ear care" area.
For what it's worth, Vicki has found that the Flents ear plugs endure
being washed with soap and water much better than Hearos. (By washing
built-up ear wax off the ear plugs, they can be used over and over
again.) Just scrub with a toothbrush, rinse, squeeze out the
excess water with a towel and let air dry.
Consider using a white
noise machine to help
out other sounds.
We have at times slept in a
truck with only its side air vents open. For a long time, Vicki didn't
realize that some trucks allow the vents to open both ways (one way at
a time). Primarily because sounds from outside can be heard, Vicki
doesn't like having a vent open right over her head. This action does
not let her sleep better.
If you can do so without
uncomfortable, neither idle nor run an APU. There's not much you can do
about the sound of a reefer cycling. (Then again, some reefer
drivers consider the cycling of their refrigeration units to be "music
to their ears.") Some drivers like to sleep with window screens in
place. One disadvantage of using them is that they do not
block sounds coming
from outside your truck.
One advantage of using truck
window screens is their ability to keep flying insects from entering
your truck. It's aggravating to be right on the verge of falling asleep
only to hear the high-pitched whine of a mosquito coming in for a
landing on your ear! One does not want to spend valuable time getting
rid of flies when they can be kept out in the first place.
To Sleep Better,
using window screens is that they don't block bad odors (like diesel
exhaust) from entering
your truck. You can block some bad smells by keeping your windows
but beware of lack of ventilation.
Once, we were contacted
by someone who liked to
sleep with his truck
windows down, but inevitably ended up having someone park next to him
who would idle all night. He complained that he was not able to sleep
better because he had to put up
with the smell of diesel exhaust. Until all drivers have the
ability to stay comfortable in their trucks without it, there will
probably be someone parked nearby who is idling for comfort or running
If you haul animals such
as cattle or pigs,
there's not much we know of (apart from having your trailer
washed out) to cut down on odors.
Stay as far away from
sources of odors as you
can (like not parking next to dumpsters with discarded foodstuffs or a
row of poorly treated outdoor toilets in the heat of the
Along this same theme, if you
can avoid it, do not
park near industry that is known to produce bad odors like paper mills
and sewage treatment facilities. Don't even park downwind from
these facilities as the odors coming from them can waft.
Don't forget to
prevent bad odors from
developing inside your truck. Remember to dump your garbage or trash
regularly (such as in the trash barrels on fuel islands at truck
stops) and to keep your portable
toilet clean (such as with baking
We have found it convenient to
hang an old intact
plastic grocery bag from the aisle-side armrest of the passenger seat
use as a garbage bag. When it got filled up, we would tie it closed and
throw it away. For us, the smelliest garbage we dealt with was the
packaging from raw chicken. (We usually cooked the meat as crock
In the event that there
is a sleep-disturbing odor in your truck (such as cigarette smoke,
emissions of intestinal gas, pet smells, etc.), you may wish to
an appropriate deodorizer or odor neutralizer -- whether manually or
automatically triggered. As masking scents don't eliminate odors,
standard air fresheners may or may not work.
To Sleep Better,
Reduce, Remove or Adjust
Aim to park for better sleep in
your truck and trailer won't sway from side to side. Never park on the
shoulder of a major highway or interstate to sleep. As if the whoosh of
traffic going by isn't bad enough, you could be facing questions from a
law enforcement officer. Depending on where
you're running, it could be illegal to park on an on-ramp or
Also, if you're in a high wind area, see if you can park behind a wind
break or so that the wind is not coming from the side.
If you idle your truck
for comfort but find that the
frequency of the vibration prevents you from being able to sleep
better, see if you can
adjust the engine's RPMs to something that is
When Vicki joined Mike full-time in his truck in 2009,
the frequency of the truck's engine at unadjusted idle speed -- which
had not bothered him -- did
bother her. He ended up reducing the engine's RPMs to a frequency that
worked well for both of us to sleep better. This situation had
the additional benefit of the engine using
less fuel. Eventually, his company put a battery-powered
conditioning unit in the truck, which eliminated the need to
idle, and therefore the vibrations due to
It may not be possible
depending on your
schedule, but aim to park for your sleep break at times when you don't
have to have your trailer loaded or unloaded. Unless you're in
a dock where the shipper or receiver requires you to
pull the tractor out from under the trailer, every time a forklift or
Hyster has to enter or exit your trailer, there is movement.
If you are super sensitive to
movement when you sleep, either don't carry a pet
with you (who may move around and disturb you) or else put it in an
approved pet carrier before you retire.
Also, you may wish to use the
type of cold food storage device that doesn't vibrate or rattle (like
To Sleep Better, Seek
to Make an Uncomfortable
Atmosphere More Comfortable
Seek to optimize the
temperature in your truck. It has been said that the optimum
temperature to sleep better is between 60°F (15.6°C) and 68°F (20°C).
control options include engine idling, APUs, battery-connected
units and shore power.
Seek to moderate the humidity
level in your truck. We've never heard of a
putting either a humidifier or dehumidifier in his/her truck, but we
suppose it is possible.
Adjust the feel of your
sleeper mattress if
necessary with a topper or pad. As we learned, even a brand new
We decided to invest in a 5
Zone King Mattress Pad and cut it up
the middle so that we each got half -- one for the top bunk and one for
the bottom. It made a huge
difference in the level of comfort between the
mattresses and our sleeping bags -- enabling both of us to sleep
better. With the pad in place, Vicki said that
she didn't have to
worry about mattress springs poking her anymore.
Give yourself enough room
to move around during
your sleep. A zipped up sleeping
bag that is too narrow may restrict your movements and hinder
your ability to sleep better.
When Vicki slept in her sleeping bag in
the truck, she left the zipper open most of the way down the side. That
way, she could easily turn and even exit to use the restroom in the
making a zipper noise (that could have awakened Mike). Mike's
second sleeping bag was narrower than his first. Still, he chose to
sleep in his bag with the zipper all the way up. It's a matter of
To Sleep Better,
Address Health Issues
Try as much as possible
to sleep when it is
dark outside, so as to try to be in sync with your body's circadian
If you find yourself
being tired all the time,
you could have undiagnosed sleep apnea. The best thing to do in cases
like this is
to schedule a sleep study. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, it
become necessary to start using a CPAP machine
when you sleep. (We will cover this issue in greater detail later.)
Many professional drivers with sleep apnea who use CPAP machines report
that they sleep better with them than without them.
Seek to alleviate
sickness, the symptoms of
which could interrupt your sleep. Head or chest congestion could hinder
your ability to breathe or could cause you to cough. Beware of any
medication that could cause drowsiness during waking hours.
If you deal with seasonal
allergies, be prepared with appropriate antihistamine or prescription
medications. Again, beware of any medication (even those obtained "over
the counter") that could cause drowsiness that could affect your
We do not at all recommend
the roller coaster of using pharmaceutical aids (like sleeping pills)
to assist with sleep. Seek to use natural sleep aids.
Don't engage in vigorous physical
exercise just before going to bed. Give yourself time to
To Sleep Better,
Address Food and Drink Issues
If you have a small
bladder, reduce the amount
of fluids you consume a couple of hours before going to bed to avoid
breaks. Unless you're an owner-operator with a built-in bathroom in
your truck, having a portable
toilet in your truck removes the need for you to have to
leave your truck to use the restroom.
If you find yourself
having trouble falling asleep or staying
asleep, evaluate your caffeine intake (such as from coffee, tea or
chocolate). Reduce your intake below what
If possible, eat the
kinds and quantity of food
that will help you sleep better. Never eat an energy bar or drink an
drink within a short time of going to sleep.
An External Challenge
We Have Faced to Sleep Better
Perhaps you have had this experience. You're sound
asleep in your truck in what you think is a safe, legal parking space
-- even in a truck stop or rest area -- and around 2 or 3 in the
morning, there's a knock at your driver's side door. If you don't
answer it or make other arrangements, there may be another in about 30
minutes, and another 30 minutes after that, etc., etc., ad infinitum,
We've had this happen to us a number of times in states
ranging from South Carolina to Connecticut.
One night when Mike tried
without success to find a parking space at one of the two truck stops
in Milford, Connecticut (I-95, exit 40), he decided to go north by a
mile or so and try to get a parking space at the rest area. He found a
spot, but it was the worst night's sleep on the road Vicki had ever
had. She counted five separate knocks on the door in the course of the
night! (Mike usually tries
to ignore knocks on the door in the night, but Vicki can't. Once her
heart gets to pounding and the adrenalin is flowing, it's hard for her
to fall back to sleep.)
We have heard of various ways to ward off "lot
and would be
interested to know which of them really work the best for the least
Opinions may vary, but Mike says that "no lot
lizard" signs like the one
shown at left don't
There is a story about a trucker who once had a knock on
his door in the wee hours of the morning at a truck stop. He got up,
pulled his cab
curtain back, and saw a woman on the ground just outside his door. He
already turned on his cell phone and was ready to use
it. He rolled down the window just far enough so she could hear.
Showing his cell phone to her, he told the
woman in no uncertain terms that she had 5 seconds to move away from
his truck before he called the police, and not only that but to tell
"friends" to stay away from his truck, too. He wasn't disturbed for the
rest of the night.
An Internal Challenge
Faced to Sleep Better
There was a time when the model of QualComm Mobile
Communications Terminal (aka "satcom")
installed on trucks didn't
have an "off" feature or ability to turn the volume all the way down.
This is a photo of one model, but not the one we're referring to here...
The first time Mike drove for Epes Transport, he was
assigned to a new fleet manager named "Joey." (Vicki was riding with
Mike when this happened.) Joey liked to send
out non-essential messages over the QualComm.
In those days, whenever anyone sent a message over
QualComm, the unit
would emit a loud "BEEP!" How is a person supposed to sleep better with
that thing going off every time a message came through? What could
we do to temper, soften
the volume of the beep? Taping a cotton ball across the
course as is the case with many professional drivers, Mike's sleeping
schedule varied. So there were times when he would be trying to sleep
during the day after driving the night before. And of course, Joey had
a "day job." (You may see where this is heading...)
It seemed that Joey sent out a lot of messages.
reasoning with him about the number of messages he was sending, but to
One day after Mike had run particularly hard -- and
neither of us had been able to sleep better because of all of
Joey's messages -- Mike parked his company-issued truck in a
area in northern Kentucky. We were exhausted. Mike sent a message to
Joey that he had been driving most of the night, he was very
tired, he was going to bed, and he didn't want to be disturbed.
In spite of Mike's message, we pretty much knew what was
coming. So we wrapped the QualComm unit in a thick towel, then in a
Wal-Mart bag (to keep it from getting wet) and literally stuck it out
Finally! We were able to sleep better. Whew! We don't
how long we slept, but when we rescued the unit from its out-of-doors
location, what to our wondering eyes should appear but a bunch of
messages waiting for us from Joey! Ha ha!
Mike left the company to take a job elsewhere for awhile
and didn't have to put up with Joey or his "love notes" anymore. When
Mike went back to work for Epes, he specifically inquired about Joey
and found out that he had left the company.
Nowadays, trucks with new QualComm MCTs in them can be
adjusted so that the volume goes all the way down. Hurray! Now drivers
can sleep better without all that "beeping" going on.
Money saving tip:
Seek the low-cost methods of helping you to sleep better. The costs to
purchase ear plugs, an eye mask and a truck sun shade are all modest.
Even a more expensive item like a mattress pad can make all the
difference and turn out to "pay for itself" in improved sleep.
Sometimes a fifteen-minute "power nap" can
a person who didn't sleep better the night before, but watch out for
problems associated with Hours of Service regulations.
Keep your cell phone fully charged in case you
need it. Unless you use yours for an alarm clock for waking, turn it
off when you go to sleep. It has been argued that the
electronic frequency used by cell phones can inhibit sleep, so use your
own best judgment in this regard. Some cell phones have settings that
allow users who use the alarm clock setting to hear only the
alarm (not ringing when a call comes in).
Many of the deodorizers or air fresheners that
come on a string that can be hung from a rearview mirror quickly lose
their scent. So evaluate for yourself if this is a good value.
maintain good relationships with your family members. Nothing
some people so riled up as disagreements with relatives. Stewing on a
situation mentally is sure to weigh heavy on your mind, preventing
mental relaxation. We've also found it beneficial to keep a clear
conscience regarding all matters of life. When you lie down to rest,
you will sleep better, being at peace.