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How Your Body Clock Interacts with Your Sleep Drive

These two seemingly opposed internal processes—the body clock and the sleep drive—work together to make it possible for people to stay awake for 15 or 16 hours, and then sleep roughly seven to nine hours straight.

For many railroaders, however, sleeping this long in one bout is not possible. Trying to balance work schedules and other responsibilities means that sleep often must be broken up into chunks.

If you are facing this situation yourself, here are strategies that sleep specialists suggest

  • Know your daily sleep need.
  • Do what you can to get that amount of sleep.
  • Try to sleep as much as you can at the same time every day, five hours, if possible. Sleep specialists call this regular block of sleep, anchor sleep, because it helps keep body clocks in line. 
  • If you can’t sleep for five hours, get as much sleep as you can at one time.
  • Sleep at night, if possible. Humans are wired to stay awake in daylight hours, and sleep at night, so nighttime sleep usually is more restful.
  • Supplement your longest long sleep bout with one or more naps. If your company permits napping at work, when waiting in a siding, for example, take 20- to 30-minute naps to boost alertness. Sleep as long as you can before your run.

Explore Further 

Do you carry a sleep debt?

Napping as a Sleep Strategy (1:03)

Daniel Cohen, MD, MMSc, formerly of Harvard, tells how to make naps part of your sleep plans.