A significant number of transportation workers, including truck drivers, say that sleepiness has caused safety problems on the job, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) 2012 Sleep in America poll. It is the first poll to ask truck drivers and other transportation professionals — including pilots, train operators, bus, taxi and limo drivers — about their sleep habits and work performance.
The results of the poll are striking. About one-fourth of transportation professionals admit that sleepiness has affected their job performance at least once a week, compared to about one in six non-transportation workers. One in five pilots (20%) admit that they have made a serious error and one in six train operators (18%) and truck drivers (14%) say that they have had a “near miss” due to sleepiness.
Roughly one in 10 Americans say they are likely to fall asleep at an inappropriate time and place, such as during a meeting or while driving. The poll included a validated assessment tool used by doctors to determine whether a person is “sleepy.” Anyone who suffers from excessive sleepiness should seek professional help to identify underlying conditions. This study finds that 11% of pilots, train operators, bus, taxi, and limo drivers and 8% of truck drivers as well as 7% of non-transportation workers are “sleepy.”
The study indicates that time off between shifts may play a role in transportation workers’ sleepiness. Non-transportation workers report having an average of 14.2 hours off between shifts, compared to 12.9 hours for pilots; 12.5 for train operators; 12.1 for truck drivers; and 11.2 hours for bus, taxi, and limo drivers. If given one more hour off between work shifts, over one-half of pilots (56%) and train operators (54%) report that they would use that hour for sleep.
“Transportation workers experience considerable variability in the days they work, the times they work, and the amount of time off between shifts. This makes it difficult for such workers to maintain regular sleep/wake schedules, which can, in turn, make it difficult for these workers to maintain alertness on the job. Employers should put more effort into designing work/rest schedules that facilitate sleep and minimize workers exposure to irregular, variable schedule changes,” says Patrick Sherry, PhD, a sleep researcher and professor from the University of Denver Intermodal Transportation Institute.
A sleepy transportation worker is far more prone to mistakes: sleepy transportation workers report job performance problems about three times more often and report averaging about 45 minutes less sleep per night than their non-sleepy peers, says CPT Edward Edens, PhD of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
Many transportation workers cite their schedule as a major contributor to sleep problems. Almost one-half of train operators (44%) and more than one-third of pilots (37%), about one-fourth of truck drivers and non-transportation workers (27% each) and one-fifth of bus, taxi and limo drivers (20%) report that their current work schedule does not allow adequate time for sleep.
Sleepiness has also played a role in car accidents commuting to and from work. Transportation workers, especially pilots and train operators, are significantly more likely than non-transportation workers (6% each, compared to 1%) to say that they have been involved in a car accident due to sleepiness while commuting.
“Driving home from work after a long shift is associated with crashes due to sleepiness,” according to Dr. Sanjay Patel, a sleep researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “We should all be concerned that pilots and train operators report car crashes due to sleepiness at a rate that is six times greater than that of other workers.”
The survey also asked transportation workers about their level of workday sleep dissatisfaction. Almost two-thirds of train operators (57%), one-half of pilots (50%) and nearly half (44%) of truck drivers say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on work nights, compared to and 42% of non-transportation workers. Bus, taxi, and limo drivers report the best work day sleep satisfaction, with about one-third (29%) saying they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on work nights.
“The margin of error in these professions is extremely small. Transportation professionals need to manage sleep to perform at their best,” says David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation. “As individuals and employers, we need to know more about how sleep improves performance.”
The poll shows that transportation professionals are taking more naps than other workers. More than one-half of pilots (58%) and train operators (56%) take at least one nap on workdays, compared to about one-fourth of non-transportation workers (27%). About one in five pilots (20%), bus, taxi and limo drivers (20%), truck drivers (16%) and train operators (16%) say they take 3-5 naps during the workweek. Among those who report napping on work days, one-half of pilots (50%), almost one-half of truck drivers (42%), one-third of train operators (33%) and nearly one-fourth of bus, taxi and limo drivers (24%) say they actually napped during work hours in the past two weeks, compared to about one in five non-transportation workers (19%).
“Transportation workers have challenging schedules that compete with the natural need for sleep. While I’m impressed that transportation professionals nap when they are off duty, we need to better understand how to use naps to reduce sleep deprivation and overcome scheduling issues,” says Thomas Balkin, PhD, a sleep researcher from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
The study uncovered the following sleep facts for truck drivers:
• 14% report having a ‘near miss’ at work due to sleepiness
• 69% said sleepiness never impacts their job
• 42% said they nap on workdays
• Average hours slept on workdays: 6h 50m
• Average hours worked per shift: 10.1 hours
The National Sleep Foundation offers the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to see if you are too sleepy. Doctors use this routinely to test sleepiness levels. To test if you are too sleepy, answer the question on the sleepiness scale at http://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-scale. If you rate "sleepy" on this scale, it’s recommend that you speak with your physician about it.
The 2012 Sleep in America annual poll was conducted for the National Sleep Foundation by WB&A Market Research, using a sample of 1,087 adults above the age of 25. This consisted of a control group of 292 non-transportation workers, 202 pilots, 203 truck drivers, 180 rail transportation workers, and 210 bus, taxi and limo drivers.
Information about the National Sleep Foundation, the current and former polls and a database of sleep professionals and sleep centers can be found online at www.sleepfoundation.org.