When it comes to long haul trucking, one of the most important accessories of the tractor unit is the sleeper. Sleeper units come in many different shapes and sizes, and can be built as part of the cab or an add-on unit that sits directly behind the cab. The sleeper is, in a sense, the drivers’ home away from home. Depending on the need and design of the sleeper, some units offer just enough room to accommodate a bed and a few modest necessities, while others provide all the comforts and accommodations one would find in a modern RV!
Although the sleeper has been around for many years in one form or another, there was a time when a trucker did not have even the simplest sleeping space available to them in their semi tractor. For decades the cab-over was the design of choice because of regulatory rules that restricted the combined length of the tractor/trailer assembly. To pull a longer trailer required a shorter tractor, and a shorter tractor left little, if any room for a sleeper. If a trucker needed to stop and sleep they had a choice – either stop at a motel, or pull over at a truck stop or wayside rest and sleep sitting-up in the drivers’ seat.
As years passed there was development of cab-over units that integrated a small sleeping area behind the seating, and in most cases, small was the operative word! More like a tiny bunk than a bed, it allowed drivers to “comfortably” get some sleep. Curtains that separated the driving area from the sleeping compartment blocked light and afforded some privacy. Drawbacks to this design included the need for the driver to climb over the “doghouse” (area of the cab that covered the engine) to get into the bunk, and the inherent design of the cab-over configuration. When maintenance was required on the engine the entire cab unit tipped forward to allow access to the engine. That meant everything in the cab not secured or stored correctly would fall towards the windshield area. Although this sleeper design helped truckers get some required restful sleep, design improvements were obvious and changes had to be made to provide more room, comfort, and safety.
The Federal Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 modified previous limits to tractor/trailer combinations. The length of the tractor and trailer were now measured separately instead of as one unit. Two big changes happened at this point; Conventional tractors (driver sits behind the engine compartment) became the norm, and longer semi tractors allowed for longer, bigger sleeper units. As materials and technology advanced, larger yet lighter and more powerful tractor designs hit the market. Following close behind were changes to sleeper units. Utilizing the same lightweight materials and design technologies, sleepers slowly evolved from a cramped bunk to living spaces that can easily be described as rolling motel rooms.
Conventional semi tractors can be manufactured with the sleeper unit as a seamless part of the cab, or ordered from the factory without a sleeper unit. There are several after-market sleeper manufacturers that can design, build and install a sleeper unit on a tractor frame assembly. The size of the sleeper is dependent on the length of the frame to provide adequate spacing from behind the cab unit to the fifth wheel. The advantage to an add-on after-market sleeper is that it can be removed from the tractor assembly and transferred to a new tractor when the old tractor is traded-in or re-purposed.
Modern sleepers provide more space and greater comfort than those of the past. Sleepers can be easily entered from the cab through an ample access way, and some have enough height for a person to stand and move around with ease. Furniture such as tables and seating can be easily maneuvered to provide a comfortable work environment for two people. These interstate “home away from home” sleeper units provide the ultimate in luxury and efficiency for team drivers, especially husband and wife teams who professionally ply their driving expertise for weeks or months at a time.
The cab-over-semi tractor of decades ago, designed and built strictly for sheer brute strength and pulling power with little (if any) thought to driver comfort, has faded into the past. Total sleeping comfort in a semi sleeper world is now commonplace when it comes to long-haul trucking. Almost every tractor unit on the highway today is of conventional design, and most sport some type of factory or after-market sleeper unit that provides amenities and comfort for drivers who need quality and restful sleep. From simple sleeper units that provide a comfortable bed and needed storage space to behemoth custom built assemblies that proved every comfort of home including a shower and toilet, almost anything a person can imagine can now be custom built and incorporated into a modern, sleek and aerodynamic sleeper unit!