Sleep, or the lack of it, can affect every single one of us, and our mental health. And a new poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation demonstrates how lack of sleep can also affect our safety.
The 2012 Sleep in America poll, which kicked off National Sleep Awareness Week, focused on the sleep routines of transportation workers, such as pilots and taxi drivers, and how these routines impact their experiences at work, according to a poll press release.
The poll included a sample of 1,087 adults over 25 years old, including 292 adults who were non-transportation workers as the control group.
The results show that many transportation workers, especially pilots and train operators, are aware of issues in job performance and safety due to lack of proper sleep. This puts not only themselves at danger, but everyone else who decides to be a passenger as well.
“About one-fourth of train operators (26 percent) and pilots (23 percent) admit that sleepiness has affected their job performance at least once a week, compared to about one in six non-transportation workers (17 percent),” according to a poll press release. “One in five pilots (20 percent) admit that they have made a serious error and one in six train operators (18 percent) and truck drivers (14 percent) say that they have had a ‘near miss’ due to sleepiness.”
Transportation workers continue to put themselves and others in danger when sleepiness impairs their driving in the commute to and from work.
“Pilots and train operators are significantly more likely than non-transportation workers (6 percent each, compared to 1 percent) to say that they have been involved in a car accident due to sleepiness while commuting,” according to the press release.
Although the poll focused on transportation workers, Americans who work in general have issues with sleepiness that affects their performance at work and safety. However, the consequences of a pilot being sleepy compared to a customer service representative, for example, are completely different if you look at the number of people who could be impacted.
“Roughly one in ten Americans say they are likely to fall asleep at an inappropriate time and place, such as during a meeting or while driving,” according to the press release. “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.”
Many transportation workers in the poll had issues getting a good night’s sleep on nights where they had to work.
Results from the poll suggest some reasons for why transportation workers seem to have challenges with getting adequate sleep. These reasons include scheduling issues, inconsistent or changing shifts, lengthy commutes and not enough time off between work shifts.
Steven Park, an otorhinolaryngologist and integrative sleep surgeon at the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Montefiore Medical Center, said in an email that the results from the poll are to be expected.
“Transportation workers have unique work hour requirements and are at high risk of sleep deprivation, which can lead to errors both at work and accidents outside of work,” Park said.
However, there are some solutions for the problem of sleepiness in transportation workers.
“Policies must be in place to ensure people are getting adequate amounts of sleep, with plenty of time for recovery sleep in-between shifts,” Park said. “Also, routine screenings for sleep issues such as insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea should be considered. Transportation industries should work with government and insurance entities to develop reasonable processes to monitor sleep and related job performance. It is also important that appropriate actions are implemented to ensure the safety of both the workers and those who use these services.”
Excessive sleepiness has far-reaching side effects besides feeling tired. According to a report from the American Psychological Association, some side effects of excessive sleepiness are irritability, moodiness, disinhibition, apathy, slower speech, “flattened emotional responses,” memory impairment and multitasking issues.
At the most severe point of sleep deprivation, people can involuntarily lose attention, fall into “micro sleeps,” fall asleep while doing activities and even have hypnagogic hallucinations. The report adds that sleepiness can definitely affect decision-making noticeably. Sleepiness can lead to accidents and death, and can prevent children from learning properly in school as well.
Park agrees that sleepiness can affect both mental and physical health in multiple ways.
“Numerous studies have shown that even mild levels of sleep deprivation can significantly affect memory, mood, cognition, reaction times and executive function,” Park said.
“With chronic sleep deprivation and sleep apnea, anxiety and depression risk increases. Sleep deprivation also promotes weight gain by making people more hungry for fatty, sugary, salty, and starchy foods. It also increases risk-taking behavior.”
Despite these harmful side effects associated with sleepiness and sleep deprivation, not enough people are taking adequate sleep seriously.
“Sleep should be a priority when it comes to your health,” Park said. “It affects every aspect of your mind and body. Think of sleep as your most important appointment of the day.”
National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation Poll Explores Transportation Workers’ Sleep. Web. March 6, 2012. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/press-release/sleepy-pilots-train-operators-and-drivers
American Psychological Association. Why sleep is important and what happens when you don’t get enough. Web. March 7, 2012. http://www.apa.org/topics/sleep/why.aspx
National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Awareness Week. Web. March 7, 2012. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/event/national-sleep-awareness-week
Park, Steven. Email interview. March 6, 2012.
Reviewed March 7, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith