March 14, 2012

Pilots and Train Operators Need Sleep

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Sleep problems plague transportation workers and cause safety and job performance problems

(dailyRx News) We rely on planes, trains and automobiles to get us where we need to go, but what if the people operating those vehicles aren't getting enough sleep? Guess what - they're not.

Pilots and train operators are especially struggling with sleep, according to a national sleep poll that found that unsettling numbers of transportation professionals aren't getting enough rest.

These workers also reported that sleepiness has compromised safety on the job, and their schedules appear to be a big part of the problem.

"If you don't get enough sleep, ask your doctor for help."

According to the 2012 Sleep in America poll by the National Sleep Foundation, pilots and train operators, as well as truck, bus, taxi and limo drivers, experience higher rates of self-reported sleepiness and more problems with job performance and safety than non-transportation workers.

The poll included responses from 1,087 adults, including 292 non-transportation workers and 795 transportation workers, almost evenly divided into one quarter pilots, one quarter truck drivers, one quarter rail transportation worker and one quarter bus, taxi and limo drivers.

Pilots and train operators were most likely to report having difficulties performing well or safely at their jobs because of inadequate sleep or sleeping problems.

In fact, 20 percent of pilots say they have made a serious error due to sleepiness, and 18 percent of train operators and 14 percent of truck drivers admit to having a "near miss" because of drowsiness.

In terms of impaired job performance, the numbers are even higher. About a quarter of pilots and train operators said their ability to do their job has been affected by sleepiness at least once a week while only 17 percent of non-transportation workers reported this.

Pilots and train operators also reported the most dissatisfaction with sleep and a higher likelihood of falling asleep asleep at the wheel while driving to or from work.

Although only 1 percent of non-transportation workers said they were in a car accident because of sleepiness during their commute, the number was 6 percent for pilots and train operators.

Half of all the pilots surveyed and 57 percent of the train operators said they rarely or never get a good night's sleep on work nights.

But bus, taxi and limo drivers were actually doing better than non-transportation workers on getting good sleep each night. About a third said they rarely or never get good sleep on a work night, compared to the overall 42 percent of non-transportation workers who reported as much.

In general, the poll found that one tenth of pilots, train operators, and bus, taxi and limo drivers are excessively sleepy, about 3 percent more than non-transportation workers who are regularly sleepy.

Being "sleepy" was determined by a standard assessment used by doctors that was included in this poll. The findings also revealed that "sleepy" transportation workers reported problems with their job performance three times more often than non-sleepy transportation professionals.

A significant reason for their sleep issues are their work schedules, according to the poll's findings. A little over a third of pilots and 44 percent of train operators said their work schedules do not allow enough time for sleep while only a quarter of non-transportation workers said work schedules contributed to their sleep problems.

Train operators and truck drivers had about two hours less of time off between shifts, and pilots averaged an hour less, compared to non-transportation workers who have average about 14 hours off between shifts.

More than half of pilots and train operators said they would sleep if they had that extra hour. Both already nap twice as often as non-transportation workers, the poll found.

According to the poll, both these professions also tend to have longer average commutes than non-transportation workers have, and longer commutes have been associated with shorter sleep durations.

"Transportation workers experience considerable variability in the days they work, the times they work, and the amount of time off between shifts," said Patrick Sherry, Ph.D., a sleep researcher and professor from the University of Denver Intermodal Transportation Institute.

"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," Sherry said. "Employers should put more effort into designing work/rest schedules that facilitate sleep and minimize workers exposure to irregular, variable schedule changes."

The 2012 Sleep in America annual poll is conducted by WB&A Market Research on behalf of the National Sleep Foundation.
 

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
March 13, 2012

Last Updated:
March 14, 2012