Sleep for safety

Frank Di Giacomo
Posted on May 1, 2012

How many times has this happened to you? You get home from work and tell yourself, “I’m going to bed early tonight” — only to get caught up in other tasks and, before you know it, it’s too late to turn in early.

Sometimes it seems like “catch up on sleep” is always on our to-do list. Even when we can get to bed at a decent hour, some of us struggle to fall asleep — or to stay asleep. 

Good sleep is important for everyone’s well-being, but it’s even more crucial for those who work in transportation.

This issue was explored in a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). The group said its 2012 Sleep in America poll is the first to ask transportation professionals — including pilots, train operators, and truck, bus, taxi and limo drivers — about sleep habits and work performance.

Among the findings: About one-fourth of train operators and pilots admit that sleepiness has affected their job performance at least once a week. Also, one in five pilots admit that they have made a serious error, and about one in six train operators and truck drivers say that they have had a “near miss,” due to sleepiness.

The study drew a federal-level response.

“The results of the NSF poll should serve as a literal ‘wake-up call,’” said Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “Inadequate sleep puts lives at risk — we see this over and over in our accident investigations.”

In the poll results, bus drivers were grouped with taxi and limo drivers. School bus drivers were about 43 percent of the respondents in the bus/taxi/limo category.

The bus/taxi/limo group seemed to fare better than others in some key issues. For example, 10 percent of them said that sleepiness has affected their job performance at least once a week, compared with 23 percent of pilots, 26 percent of train operators and 15 percent of truck drivers.

NSF also issued tips for those who struggle with sleep:

• Go to sleep and wake at the same time every day, and avoid spending more time in bed than needed.
• Use bright light to help manage your “body clock.” Avoid bright light in the evening, and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning.
• Use your bedroom only for sleep to strengthen the association between your bed and sleep. It may help to remove work materials, computers and televisions from your bedroom.
• Select a relaxing bedtime ritual, like a warm bath or listening to calming music.
• Create an environment that is conducive to sleep — quiet, dark and cool with a comfortable mattress and pillows.
• Save your worries for the daytime. If concerns come to mind, write them in a “worry book” so you can address those issues the next day.
• If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired.
• Exercise regularly, but avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime.

Everyone can benefit from at least some of these suggestions. No matter what type of work we do, we’ll be healthier, safer and more productive when we get a good night’s sleep.

Comments ( 1 )
  • Jkraemer

     | about 5 years ago

    One suggestion is missing. A sleep apnea test for the overweight and any driver that feels they got a good night’s sleep yet feel tired behind the wheel when driving. There is a form of sleep apnea where breathing stops, the brain sends a shot of adrenaline to the heart to start the breathing again, sometimes waking the sleeper up. Rather easy for a small device to detect. There are other forms just a dangerous but require an overnight sleep center stay and sophisticated equipment to detect. 28 sensors monitor the night's sleep, the results available the next day. These studies are expensive and one of the reasons for the safety of all that school bus drivers ought to have full health coverage. The profession is more stressful than most, and the consequences of employers not providing proper care have shortened the lives of school bus drivers in this profession.

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