March 3, 2012 -- Feeling sleepy at work may be a minor inconvenience for most people. But a new poll suggests it’s a major issue for transportation workers whose job it is to get people from place to place safely.
Researchers sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation found that one in four pilots and train operators say they suffer from sleepiness that affects their job performance at least once a week.
That sleepiness on the job has caused a serious safety error for one in five pilots and a “near miss” for one in six train operators and truck drivers.
“The margin of error in these professions is extremely small," David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, says in a news release. “Transportation professionals need to manage sleep to perform at their best.”
Sleepiness on the Job
The 2012 “Sleep in America” poll surveyed 202 pilots, 203 truck drivers, 180 rail transportation workers, 210 bus, taxi, and limo drivers, and a comparison group of 292 non-transportation workers.
Overall, the study showed sleepy transportation workers were three times more likely to report job performance problems and averaged about 45 minutes less sleep per night than their non-sleepy peers.
Many transportation workers say their job schedules contribute to sleep problems and sleepiness on the job, and researchers agree.
"Transportation workers experience considerable variability in the days they work, the times they work, and the amount of time off between shifts,” Patrick Sherry, PhD, professor at the University of Denver Intermodal Transportation Institute, says in the release. “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.”
For example, nearly one-half of train operators and more than one-third of pilots say their current work schedules do not allow for adequate time for sleep compared with one-fourth of non-transportation workers.
If given one more hour off between work shifts, more than half of pilots and train operators said they’d use that extra hour for sleep.
Naps Not Enough
Perhaps to compensate for not getting a good night’s sleep, transportation workers nap more often than other workers.
The poll shows that more than half of pilots and train operators take at least one nap on work days compared with only about a fourth of other workers.
"We found that although pilots are especially focused on obtaining adequate sleep, one in 10 can still be classified as 'sleepy.' This is not acceptable. Who among us wants to take a one in 10 chance of flying on a plane with a sleepy pilot?" researcher Capt. Edward Edens, PhD, of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, says in the release.
Researchers say employers should put more effort into designing work/rest schedules that encourage a healthy sleep schedule and minimize workers’ exposure to irregular schedule changes.