Notes From The Debriefing Chamber:
My second "sleepless study" went a little better, in some ways, but I'm still almost brain-dead from lack of sleep this morning (Friday). The bed was a little better than the first time. At least I only sunk into it so far before it bottomed out. And I was better prepared in most ways, having been through it once before. This time, I shorted myself on sleep the day before, arising at 5 A.M. and not letting nyself give in to the urge to take a nap during the day, when I became drowsy a couple of times. My plan was simply to try and wear myself out, so that I'd be so tired that I'd sleep through anything. And it almost worked. Almost.
I was getting sleepy around ten P.M. last night. Quite sleepy, in fact, but two things hindered my somnolence: (1) The fact that I left the house and forgot to take my own CPAP mask along!! Grrrrrrrrrr!! and (2) the inevitable wires, wires, and more wires. Plus two straps; one across my chest and another circling my abdomen (which kept slipping down to my hips every time I got up.) You ladies can likely relate well to the chest strap, if you've ever attempted to sleep wearing a tight bra! That only added insult to injury, discomfortly speaking. It wasn't enough that I have chronic allergies that like to stop my sinuses up so that I can't half-breathe. No, now they tighten an elastic band around my chest which further restricts that vital function!!
Then, the lights went out and the study began. I lay on one side, then flipped over to the other. Nobody told me to, this time around -- I did it on my own, trying to acheive some degree of more-or-less comfort and avoid being strangled by my wiring harness in the process. I got close to slumber, then coughed and woke myself back up again. This seemed to happen all night long. Get close to slumber and cough, cough, cough, then have a need for the bathroom twice. The tech has to come in and unplug you from the monitoring gear, so it's not a matter of just getting up and going, as you would at home. You learn very quickly to summon help early-on, before the urge becomes too critical, so as to allay the possibility of an unfortunate accident!
But the "loaner" mask proved to be the biggest single aggravation and my anger at myself for forgetting the one I use all the time, and am thoroughly used to, didn't help me get to dreamland any faster. First I played with the straps for what seemed like hours, trying to get it adjusted right. Then the nasal cushion kept rubbing my face, irritating the shit out of me! I pushed the mask back and forth around my face, trying to get the cushion positioned properly. I pulled that mask from hell all the way out, against the elastic straps, completely off my face, then let it snap back, like a rubber band! And at the same time, it was leaking air pressure upward, into my eyes, and I tugged and mashed around on it, trying to get it adjusted so that it wouldn't leak air. In retrospect, I think the thing was too large in size for the contours of my face, but that knowledge was little help in trying to live with it for several torturous hours.
At some point, or points, I must have slept a little, because when it at long last came to an end the technician told me I had slumbered enough for him to adjust the air pressure a time or two and get an idea of what permanent adjustments needed to be made. I was never even aware that he came into the room to make the adjustments, so I was out like a light for at least ten or fifteen minutes, seems like. So now they will analyze the study and my sleep specialist doc will make the final decision and issue an updated report within two weeks. I also know now that the increased pressure was likey what kept making it leak so much. Great to know, but I was still a walking zombie when I left the place earlier this morning.
Well, at least it's over!!!! Now I need to stay awake, as much as possible, today, so that I can sleep normally tonight. I'm a trucker and that's an occupation where going around half-asleep is a way of life, as I implied in Part 1 of this saga. And that occupational dilemma is where the rest of this story kicks in.
The problem which leads to widespread and common sleep deprivation among truck drivers has nothing at all to do with any sleep disorder. The real root of the problem is in the Hours Of Service (HOS) regulations which our all-knowing, all-seeing government imposes upon us. The problem isn't that we don't need some regulation, because we certainly do. Dispatch and the customers would quickly run us into the ground without some sensible regs. We'd never get any rest at all without them. But the key word here is "sensible," and many of the regulations are anything but sensible. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the regulations are a "one-size-fits-all" package. They fail to take into account that everyone is a little different and they fail to provide any flexibility, which is badly needed. They are ramrod-stiff and totally inflexible.
With the advent of the new, "improved" regulations, in 2004, things changed. Then the situation became even worse when one of the regulations was again altered in 2005. Basically, you had 11 hours you were permitted to drive and a 10 hour mandatory break period. The total hours a driver was permitted to work (both driving and other, non-driving activities) was cut from 15 to 14 hours. The real problem kicked in the following year, when they changed the split sleeper rule from 5 on, 5 off (or any combination of split breaktime that totalled 10 hours,) to a rigid 8 hour and 2 hour split. This meant that now any sleeper berth time couldn't be counted as break unless it was 8 full hours. The two other hours didn't count as break without that mandatory 8-hour segment being taken.
Drivers were incensed in general. This made the 14-hour work clock virtually unstoppable, meaning that if a driver got drowsy on the road that he couldn't stop for a brief 2-hour nap, then resume driving. It couldn't be counted as break on a logbook unless it was 8 hours in length. This also meant that all waiting time, to be loaded or unloaded, couldn't be counted as break, unless you had to wait a full 8 hours. If the waiting time was under that, it counted as On-Duty, Not-Driving status. Otherwords, it counted against the 14 hour limit on your worktime.
Let's do some arithmetic here, so you'll understand where I'm coming from with this: 14 allowable work hours, minus 11 allowable driving hours, equals 3 hours left out of the 14. That's all the "cushion" a driver has -- 3 hours -- for any non-driving work activities, which now includes any and all waiting time under 8 hours in duration. You can kiss 30 minutes of that 3 hours goodbye automatically every single day, because of the 15 minutes of ODND that you must showfor a mandatory pre-trip or enroute daily vehicle inspection, plus another 15 minutes for the fuel stop that you will log almost every day. Sometimes you can combine them into one 15 minute stop, but not always. Anyway, you really only have two and a half hours to play with, and even less if you drop and hook a trailer once or twice, because you have to show a mandatory pre-trip inspection on every new trailer you hook up to. You can easily lose a whole hour, just for fueling and inspections, leaving you with only a two-hour cushion.
So, let's say you pull into a shipper to pick up a load and at that point you've driven 5 hours since your last break, and have used 30 minutes of ODND time. You have 6 legal drive hours remaining and a 2 1/2 hour cushion that you can wait for the load. But, the load isn't ready and you sit in the dock for 5 hours, waiting for it. Do the math yourself this time, and you'll see that instead of having 6 drive hours left, now you have only 3 1/2, because of the extra 2 1/2 hours you spent waiting. Any extra time spent waiting, under 8 hours, cuts into your remaining drive hours, because you can't stop the clock by counting it as breaktime, as you did in the bygone days of yore.
Ah, you say, but then you just start your break a little earlier, right? Well, that would normally be true, except that this load is set to deliver nearly 600 miles from that shipper, at 6 A.M. the next morning! And it's an appointment load, which means that you have to be there at that time and the appointment can't be easily rescheduled. You're looking at a ten-hour drive, at least, and it's now 3 in the afternoon, leaving you just 15 hours to take a 10-hour break, resetting your 14 and 11-hour clocks to 'zero' again, and make a 10-hour driving run. Mathematically impossible. You need at least another 5 hours.
Now do you see the dilemma these inflexible regulations force on truck drivers? The load has to be there on time, but you don't have enough hours, mathematically, to get it there legally. You're forced to "make" the hours, on paper, in order to do it legally, on paper, and pray that the DOT cops don't pull your ass in for a roadside inspection. You only show a minimum of waiting time on your logbook. Then you show starting your break much earlier than you actually do, so that you can come off of the break early enough to have sufficient drive hours to get the load delivered on time the following morning. If you do things right, you'll deliver the load on time and be perfectly legal, on paper, at the same time. And, after the fact, it's hard for the DOT to prove anything. They don't have the manpower nor the time to check things out that thoroughly, unless they suspect something. And it's usually the driver who gives them the reason to suspect anything, whether via attitude, or via glaring logbook mistakes.
But the downside of all that is that it deprives drivers of sleep on a routine basis. You, as a driver, have to deal with real time, of course, and not the artificial time you created in your logbook. This means that in order to come off your break and hit the road at the proper time, you'll only be able to get 6 hours of actual breaktime, instead of the full 10 that you've logged. It takes you the better part of an hour to unwind and get to sleep, so you actually sleep only 5 hours. Most of the time you don't get as much sleep as you want or need. This adds up within a week's time, when you're routinely shorted of sleep in this manner. You build up what the sleep specialists call a "sleep debt" and you're going around fatigued and not nearly as alert as you should be. As I said in Part 1, all the CPAP machines in the world won't do you a bit of good if you don't have the time to get all the rest and sleep that you need.
Of course you won't always have next-day deliveries. Sometimes you'll get a load with a travel day built into it. This relieves the pressure a little bit and will let you get a little more sleep, but you still have to cover the miles and deliver when you're supposed to, so the pressure is still there, but just not as heavy as usual.
So often, though, the loads with that extra time will lead to the dreaded "shift-change syndrome" turn-around on the next load. For two days, you've driven during the day and slept at night, like normal people do. Then you go to pick up that next load and you're wide-awake, refreshed, and all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You go into the shipper and proceed to wait all day long on the load, when you're not the least bit sleepy! You've got all that time spent waiting and it's wasted, because you can'tmake yourself sleep when you're not sleepy at all. You don't have a switch behind your ear which allows you to turn yourself off and on, although dispatchers apparently think you do! You'll get no mercy from them. All you'll hear is: "Well, you had all that time you spent waiting! It's YOUR fault if you didn't get any sleep!"
This load, like most, has to deliver at dawn the next morning, 400 miles away, so you know you'll be driving all night, as the wait becomes longer and longer. You sit there more than ten hours; a full break, but you haven't gotten a wink of sleep, and now the load's ready, it's 9 P.M., and you have to hit the road. You're getting drowsy now, but you can't sleep. The load has to get there and you've just wasted a whole break and not gotten a bit of sleep. As a result, you're out on the road all night, fighting back sleep. You survive only because you're used to the routine and you know what to do in order to stay awake. But you're still nowhere near as alert as you need to be. The only thing in your favor is that traffic is so much lighter at night. During the day, the chances for an accident would increase tenfold.
What I have attempted to describe are the routine, almost daily pressures of my occupation. Add to that the stress of constantly being under loads that have to deliver at rigid pre-set times, while juggling logbooks and the equally rigid regulations, and it's easy to see why many truckers don't sleep well when they do sleep. I always sleep much better and sounder at the end of a week, when I'm headed home with a load. Then the pressure is off, with the knowlege that the load does't deliver until Monday. When the psychological stress is off of you, you tend to get more rest. I spend many weekends just recuperating from the previous week and that very often throws you behind on things you need to do at home. I've learned not to worry about that. Just do what I can, when I can. Real safety on the highway starts with a well-rested driver and I make that my top priority. Housework can wait until I have a longer weekend sometime.
I need my rest. Not everyone is the "Energizer Bunny" type, like some people I know, who just keep going, and going, and going, seemingly forever. People are all different, and with such inflexible schedules versus equally inflexible regulations, it doesn't allow for those differences. The old regulations were far better for that than these newer ones. Drivers actually got more rest then than now, because they could stop the clock and utilize waiting time for breaktime. They need to put that back the way it was. Stop listening so much to the one-track-minded activist groups, like PATT, CRASH, and Public Citizen, and start listening more to the drivers, who have to live with the regulations!! And shippers absolutely need to have incentives to get us loaded faster and minimize the waiting time. Appointments need to be set to give drivers adequate breaktime enroute.
Until and unless all that happens, it will remain as it is now, I'm afraid.