On Sunday at the stroke of 2 a.m., the clocks rolled back one hour as Daylight Savings Time came to an end. This hour, hopefully you enjoyed it, because it’s just about the only break the trucking world gets in a year.
November 7 was the start of Drowsy Driving Awareness Week, an effort by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) and others to get the word out about just how important sleep to road safety. To those in the trucking world, of course, road safety is workplace safety.
The NSF estimates that more than 37 million passenger car drivers will drive drowsy at least once this year, that they’ll kill an estimated 6,400 people this year and that across the board. Drivers seem to brush it off with more than six in 10 admitting to driving when they’re fighting to keep their eyes open.
Professional drivers, of course, have a bit more structure and regulation around their driving habits than a passenger driver, but NSF Vice President Dr. Joe Dzierzewski said that truck drivers are actually at increased risk of being involved in a drowsy driving accident.
“Research shows upwards of 15% of all big rig crashes have fatigue or sleepiness as a cause, and there’s a lot to be done in terms of driver awareness,” said Dzierzewski.
The NSF has a handy guide on strategies to fight drowsy driving, most of which simply recommends healthy, consistent behaviors that Dzierzewski admits can be hard in the truck driving lifestyle.
Hours of service regulation “goes against the nature of our body clocks,” he said. Furthermore, sometimes a load needs hauling at night. The International Agency for Research on Cancer makes no bones about it; night shift work is “probably carcinogenic,” the organization said in 2019. Dzierzewski pointed to an “increased rate of stroke, heart attacks, depression, and anxiety” as well as more vehicle crashes for people who work nights.
It all comes down to the circadian rhythm – the natural, healthy tendency of humans to sleep at night and work during the day. One of the world’s top researchers on the circadian rhythm, who practically introduced the concept to the world by writing 10 books and more than 140 scientific papers on the topic, Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, has lately been on a crusade against the great modern killer of sleep: Cheap blue lights.
Moore-Ede, who has done extensive work on hours of service regulations and projects with the American Trucking Association, said that today’s HOS regs aren’t exactly circadian-friendly, but the negative effects can largely be mitigated with a simple change of lighting.
LED lights, which have become the norm in electronic lighting from sleeper cabs to smartphone and tablet screens, “produce white light with a big pump of blue” in it, he said. “The blues are causing a problem. You need it during the day, but during the night you need to take it out.”
This blue light is ubiquitous across all kinds of devices now because it’s cheap, and LEDs can efficiently convert electricity into light by doing it at frequencies that produce a lot of blue. Moore-Ede now works as the Chief Medical Advisor at Korrus, a company that says it’s found a way to remove the harmful blue light and replace it with violet hues in a light that’s still very efficient and not noticeably different.
It’s important to note that neither the old blue blocker shades at the gas station, nor Macintosh computers don’t really work as advertised. Moore-Ede said they’re not really blocking the right blues in the spectrum, and in the case of screen dimmers, the screens still use the blue-heavy LEDs. Screen dimmers “are merely adjusting the color temperature of the light – an aesthetic fix after Apple got very nervous when media came out with stories that blue light makes you fat.”
As for those stories, he said they’re unfortunately true. “Blue actually makes your appetite” increase at night he said. “With regular LEDs, people start snacking more. They’re much hungrier under the blue rich light than the zero blue.”
Moore-Ede said research firmly supports that just a few days worth of night shift work under blue lights has a negative influence on sleep pattern, appetite, obesity and diabetes risk.
“You can make someone diabetic just by the simple thing of keeping them up all night under regular blue-rich LED lights,” he said, citing studies of glucose tolerance. LEDs in trucks and logistics offices are “energy efficient and cheap, but it kills you. You don’t have to wait for a cancer diagnosis. There’s a very measurable type of effect,” he said.
Korrus manufactures and sells its own lights, and also has licensed its technology to other device makers. Moore-Ede suggested trucking could benefit from putting these lights in sleeper berths and dispatch offices.
“There are big benefits in terms of sleep and alertness and fewer errors, particularly in LTL hubs and warehouses with people doing all this sorting and unloading. That’s a place where you can put in proper lighting and it takes the risk factor out of the equation,” Moore-Ede said, likening the damage done by blue lights to jet-lag and calling it a “real nightmare” that can take days or weeks to recover from.
Both Moore-Ede and Dzierzewski agreed that it’s probably smart to limit screen time and blue light exposure befor bedtime, and for kids as well.
Together, their research shows that putting proper emphasis on a good night’s sleep and controlling environmental factors at work can reduce the risk of not only crashes, but also silent slow killers like diabetes and cancer.