Weekly Market Update: The art of napping as a driver

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Welcome to DAT Freight & Analytics’s six-part series on napping, sleep physiology, scheduling, and trip planning. While aimed at truckers in high-risk operating environments, the information will benefit anyone in the logistics industry equally. This week, we’ll start the series by exploring the art of napping.

Some progressive companies encourage sleeping on the job, while others specifically ban it. In 2019, the General Services Administration (GSA) notified employees that sleeping in government buildings is prohibited, with a few exceptions. While not an outright ban, this underscores the widely held belief that sleeping is a sign of laziness and how misunderstood the subject is. 

After all, Thomas Edison thought sleep was a waste of time and did as little of it as possible, yet others, like Winston Churchill, loved to sleep, crediting his success in leading Britain through World War II to the naps he took. Since Edison paved the way for electric light, our average sleep has dropped 35% from 10 hours to six and a half hours per night. Worse, the 30% of working adults who routinely sleep less than six hours a night are more than four times more likely to suffer a stroke.

Insufficient sleep has an estimated economic impact of more than $411 billion annually in the U.S. alone. Almost five out of every ten workers report being regularly tired during the day, and seven out of 10 say they are tired when their workday is done.

Asleep on the job

If you’re getting enough sleep regardless of the time of day, napping is a great strategy but one that takes practice. Some of the world’s leading companies, including British Airways, Cisco, FedEx, Google, and Samsung, have invested in EnergyPods, the world’s first chair for napping at the workplace developed around a simple principle: a 20-minute nap is beneficial for well-being and productivity.  

While there’s no medical definition for a power nap, the term refers to short naps ranging from about 10 to 30 minutes, long enough to give you all the benefits of sleep without leaving you groggy when you wake. Some also refer to it as a “catnap” because our furry feline friends can often be seen lying about for short periods during the day. Regardless, the duration is critical. 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) found that pilots who slept in the cockpit for 26 minutes showed alertness improvements of up to 54% and job performance improvements by 34% compared to pilots who didn’t nap.

Two physiological processes govern the urge to nap. The first is called homeostatic sleep pressure (HSP), which builds up the longer you are awake. The other involves daily circadian rhythms, leaving everyone sleepy in the afternoon or, in Latin cultures, what’s known as the “siesta.” The human brain is programmed to sleep twice daily: once in the afternoon, roughly eight hours after waking, and the second at regular bedtime.

Knowing when to nap is as crucial as how long

Nap duration is best in 20-30 minutes or an hour and a half blocks, but more on longer naps next week. Shorter power naps in the afternoon can boost alertness and vigilance, which are critical to long-distance trucking. Assuming the post-lunch siesta occurs roughly eight hours after waking, most will be tired around 2:30 pm each afternoon. Logic would suggest that’s the time to take a nap.

In reality, the window of opportunity for a mid-afternoon nap is very short, and most find that by the time they pull over and put their heads down for a nap, they are no longer tired and can’t easily fall asleep. 

Knowing when you get tired each afternoon and pulling over before the post-lunch dip in alertness hits is critical. The math is simple: note when you expect to get tired each afternoon by adding eight hours to when you typically wake. Then track when that happened, and you’ll arrive at something surprising, i.e., you get tired at roughly the same time every day. Mine is like clockwork at 2:34 pm Eastern daily.  

And that’s when you need to have your head on the pillow already, not waiting for tiredness to appear before pulling over. Try it, then set your alarm for 30 minutes to ensure you don’t oversleep. 

Another trick is to have a cup of coffee before you nap, not after. The reason? Caffeine takes roughly 20 minutes to engage the alertness receptors in the brain, so a coffee before a nap acts like an internal alarm clock, waking you around 20 minutes after putting your head down. 

Next week, we’ll dive deeper into sleep physiology and how to get better quality sleep from fewer hours in bed by counting sleep cycles. 

Disclaimer: This information is not designed to be a substitute for medical advice from a qualified practitioner or a diversion from the safe operation of motor vehicles. If you have any questions about the safe application of this information at your company, please consult your immediate supervisor. If you have health concerns adversely affecting your sleep, please immediately consult your family doctor. 

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