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Tired of Feeling Tired?

By on September 1, 2016
A truck driver yawns while driving.

Look for the Answers Beyond Studies

By: Siphiwe Baleka, Founder, Fitness Trucking

At some time or other, virtually every driver struggles with fatigue. Perhaps you’ve felt tired, your eyes became heavy, and you started to lose focus. You might even have nodded off for a brief moment. Fatigue had you in its grips, but you still had 180 miles to drive. You knew you should pull over and rest, but you didn’t. You struggled through it. You pushed yourself. After all, you barely had enough time to deliver the load on schedule. Pull over and nap, and you might have received a “service failure.” You might have lost the load. You might have lost money. You might have run afoul of your fleet manager. Pulling over and taking a nap was the right thing to do, but were you rewarded or punished?

According to the 2007 Large Truck Crash Causation Study that analyzed data from 963 accidents involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle, fatigue was the highest-ranking factor. In the Consensus Statement: Fatigue and Accidents in Transport Operations compiled by Dr. Torbjornakerstedt, it states that, “fatigue is the largest identifiable and preventable cause of accidents in transport operations, surpassing that of alcohol or drug related incidents in all modes of transportation.”

As stated in 49 CFR 392.3, “No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial vehicle while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or likely to become impaired, through fatigue… as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.” Yet, two out of every five drivers (41.0%) reported having ever fallen asleep or nodded off while driving, including 3.9% within the past month, 7.1% within the past six months, and 11.0% within the past 12 months. (Tefft 2010).

In an effort to solve this ongoing problem, the 1996 CMV/ Driver Fatigue and Alertness Study concluded that “the overall effect appears to be due to a combination of insufficient opportunity for sleep, and failure of drivers to place a high enough priority on obtaining sufficient sleep.” This older study further stated, “Changes in the hours-of-service regulations alone will not solve the fatigue problem. Much can be done to address driver fatigue through a combination of innovative hours-of-service regulation and enforcement, education, driver work scheduling, innovative fatigue management programs, driver screening, fitness-for-duty and alertness monitoring systems, and additional research.”

Finding the Root Cause

Unfortunately, this thinking misses the problem’s root cause. In order to reduce driver fatigue, understanding what fatigue is and how energy is produced in the body are essential.

When you eat food, the carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which passes through the small intestines and into the blood, thereby carrying it to every cell in your body. When glucose reaches the cell, insulin acts much like a bouncer outside of a nightclub by determining who gets into the club and who doesn’t. If insulin allows glucose into the cell, it is converted into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which can enter into the energy factory of the cell called mitochondria. When that happens, the chemical bonds of the ATP are broken and energy is released. Stay with me here.

If that doesn’t happen—if insulin prevents the glucose from entering the cell, then the glucose is not converted into ATP, which doesn’t enter the mitochondria, and consequently, no chemical bond is broken and no energy is released. Because your muscles need energy to do the work of moving your body, muscles contain a lot of mitochondria. Because adipose tissue (fat) cells simply store triglycerides, they do not contain very much mitochondria. Now you can better understand the root cause of driver fatigue.

Is Your Body an Energy Factory?

National statistics show that 69% of America’s truck drivers are obese (35 or more pounds overweight). As truck drivers lose muscle and gain fat, they lose mitochondria—the energy factories in the body. What that means is that there is less and less mitochondria for the ATP to enter into. Insulin then starts to refuse glucose entry into the cells. This causes blood glucose to rise. Meanwhile, the body is producing less energy to carry around more weight as drivers gain pounds over the years. Less energy to move more weight creates the feeling of fatigue. You literally don’t have the energy to move around. You don’t feel like doing anything, and as a result, become even more sedentary, which further causes more loss of muscle. This cycle repeats itself to the detriment of your health.

However, when you start to exercise and limit your carbohydrate (glucose) consumption, you start to build lean muscle tissue containing more mitochondria. At the same time, you’re burning fat. The result is that you’re producing more energy than before, which is used to move less weight. This creates something of a relative energy surplus. Instead of getting tired in the seventh or eighth hour of driving, you can make it through 10 hours. This is exactly what the drivers who complete the award winning Fitness Trucking 13-Week Program at Prime Inc. have reported. Within just a few weeks of exercising every day and making strategic changes to their diets, these drivers all report that they have more energy. That is because they do, in fact, have more energy.

If you’re tired of feeling tired and want to reduce fatigue, do these three things: 1. Start Exercising, 2. Building Muscle and 3. Burning Fat. The fitness centers and/or walking trails at many TA-Petro locations and the StayFit® menu options on Country Pride and Iron Skillet full service restaurant menus can be significant contributors to improving your health.

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