Set yourself up for a great night’s sleep in your semi-truck.
As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
This also goes for your pre-sleep routine. If your idea of a pre-sleep routine is simply to turn off the light and jump into bed, you may be greatly limiting your potential for highly restorative sleep.
Note: a one-size-fits-all plan for sleep won’t work.
That being said, here are some tools you may consider adding to your pre-sleep routine.
The life of an over-the-road trucker isn’t always the most consistent. However, to increase your chances of achieving consistent quality sleep, strive for a set “lights out” bedtime most nights.
Why? Well, there are two reasons:
- A set bedtime will help set your body’s natural clock, also known as your circadian rhythm. This allows your body to anticipate your bedtime and begin its own internal power-down pre-sleep routine behind the scenes.
- Having a set time for when your head hits the pillow will help you begin to plan for beneficial behavior changes even hours before bed that will result in optimal sleep quality.
To determine your ideal bedtime, you need to first determine what time you want to wake up. Once you’ve determined your ideal wake-up time, use a sleep calculator, such as SleepCalculator.com to determine your ideal bedtime.
This is important because humans sleep in about 90-minute cycles, alternating between lighter and deeper sleep. If your set wakeup time in the morning happens to be in the middle of deep sleep, you’re more likely to wake up groggy and even disoriented—somewhat like stepping off of a fast-moving train versus a slow-moving train. Ideal bedtimes and wake-up times allow you to surf those sleep-cycle waves and wake up at the point of your lightest sleep so you can start your day feeling rested.
So, once you determine your ideal wake-up time, you can set your bedtime—and then start the countdown clock to lights out.
Let the countdown begin!
Even though you’re far from quitting time for the day, once you’re about five hours away from lights out, it’s a good time to stop drinking any caffeinated beverages. If you’re a fan of an evening coffee or a soda with dinner, consider decaffeinated options. This five-hour buffer time gives caffeine ample time to leave your system and not leave you feeling restless.
Around four hours before bedtime, you should wrap up any exercise or happy hours. The energy-boosting effects of evening exercise can linger into a time of the night when you should be slowing down. And though it seems counterintuitive because many consider alcohol almost as a sleep aid, metabolizing alcohol can reduce the quality of your sleep.
While it can be tough to resist the allure of a late-night snack, food in your stomach can reduce the quality of your sleep. For this reason, it’s a good idea to “close the kitchen” for the night about three hours before lights out. Not only can metabolizing food lead to restless tossing and turning in bed but can also increase your likelihood of experiencing indigestion and acid reflux. Having an ample dinner at least three hours or more before lights out can help you resist the urge to snack before bed.
If you must snack before bed, an acceptable option might be one or two bananas. Bananas contain potassium and magnesium—known natural muscle relaxants—as well as L-tryptophan, the same sleepiness-inducing amino acid found in your Thanksgiving turkey.
Whatever you do to relax, do that to bring energy levels down for the evening no later than two hours before lights out. This is a great time for phone calls with loved ones, watching a movie, or settling in with a good book. Any peaceful activities that begin to slow the gears a bit are encouraged.
About 30 minutes before lights out, turn off all of the screens and turn your activities more toward the analog variety. Just pretend it’s 1935. This means no TV, no laptop, no tablet, and no smartphone. The reason for this is that blue-light emitting devices are known lower your body’s ability to produce melatonin—the hormone responsible for quality sleep. Transition to activities like reading a physical book, maybe writing in a journal or listening to music, or an entertaining podcast—much like how families used to gather to listen to a radio show. Give your eyes a rest from devices before you hit the hay.
Once bedtime has arrived, aim to make your sleeper cab both dark and noticeably cool.
Aim to make your semi-truck sleeping cab as dark as possible. You may opt for black-out curtains or consider wearing a comfortable, high-quality sleep mask to keep any stray light out of your eyes.
In addition to the dark, you’ll achieve deeper sleep in a noticeably cooler environment—about 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit, or between 15-19 degrees Celsius. Such cool temperatures have been shown to improve sleep quality. When the brain is cooler, it produces more melatonin—the sleep-inducing hormone. If you’ve ever struggled to get to sleep on a hot evening, your decreased melatonin production may have been to blame.
You spend one-third of your life in bed, making it one of the most—if not the most—important investments in your health. An uncomfortable mattress that reduces your sleep quality can literally shave months or years off of your life. Your truck mattress should be just as comfortable as your mattress back home. It should be soft yet supportive of your body. If you’re waking up with any body pain that you can attribute to the quality of your mattress, this should not be tolerated. Poor sleep from an uncomfortable mattress is not sustainable and can result in consequences beyond immediate discomfort.
If you don’t have the option of upgrading the entire mattress to your liking, consider investing in a quality mattress topper. An inexpensive mattress topper can drastically improve the quality of your sleep and thus your overall health.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, continuing to lay in bed—growing increasingly angry about not being able to sleep—is actually a cycle that can continue to keep you awake. To break this mental cycle, get up and do something analog until you’re tired again. Read a book. Listen to a boring audiobook or mild podcast. Maybe shake out some restlessness by walking a slow lap around the lot. Once you feel your feet dragging or your eyelids drooping a bit, hop back into bed and catch some Zs.
If your mind is still not allowing you to sleep, there is a very basic meditation exercise that can help stabilize your thinking.
- Lay in bed and close your eyes.
- Direct your full attention to the cool sensation of air entering your nostrils followed by the warm sensation of it exiting. Cool, warm, cool, warm.
- Whenever your mind wanders to anything beyond those two sensations, bring your focus back to either the cool inhale sensation of air entering your nostrils or warm air exiting.
If done properly, after just a few minutes, this should help break a disruptive mental pattern and you should be out like a light.
You feel chronically tired during the day, severely groggy in the morning, or unable to get proper sleep at night, you owe it to yourself to look into any medical reasons why you’re not achieving optimal sleep. Conditions such as insomnia or sleep apnea are not only dangerous for those experiencing said symptoms but, as a truck driver, sleep issues that contribute to drowsy driving can put the lives of everyone on the road at risk. And there have never been more successful medical interventions for an array of sleep issues. There’s no reason to not feel well-rested.
Getting quality sleep at night starts with resetting your system every day. To help with this, after a night of quality sleep in your sleeper cab, try your best to start your day with sunlight in your eyes for at least a few minutes— preferably during a break period without sunglasses.
Sunlight in your eyes not only helps to wake you up but has also been shown to help regulate hormone levels and your metabolic well-being.
This sunlight exposure could even occur simply during the walk from your sleeper cab to the truck stop bathroom to freshen up if the sun has risen. If you’re on the road before dawn, take a few minutes, maybe while refueling, to get some sunlight exposure in your eyes—not looking directly at the sun, but allowing it to fill your field of view. This sunlight will help inform your body about the time of day, helping to regulate your circadian rhythm, which can help your brain prepare your body for restful sleep each night.
OTR truck drivers spend nearly every hour of their day and night of their working lives in their sleeper semi-truck. It is their home. For this reason, it is important that this truck and its sleeper cab not only meet the professional needs of the company but exceed the driver’s personal needs as a home while supporting their health.
If it is time for you or your company to upgrade to trucks that do just this, your friends at My Little Salesman have your back.
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