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Employees Who Need Sleep the Most Are Getting the Least

The McClellan Law Firm

All of us need a good night's sleep, especially when it comes to getting things done at work. Unfortunately, some of the hardworking people who need sleep the most simply are getting it—or aren’t getting enough, at least. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep, though many report getting less than seven hours in a typical night. While to most people this may not seem like such a serious issue, there are some occupations were a lack of sleep can be disastrous.

In fact, a study by the National Sleep Foundation found that among America’s most sleep-deprived are:

  • Train Operators
  • Truck Drivers
  • Airline Pilots

According to that study, 14% of all truckers, 23% of pilots, and 26% percent of train operators admit that sleepiness has affected their job performance—sometimes leading to dangerous results. Of these employees, all of them reported near-misses and even accidents due to their lack of shut-eye.

The Danger of Drowsy Workers in the Transportation Industry

For some, being drowsy on the job may lead to slower production, a few typos in an email, and overdosing on coffee or energy drinks. For others, it may lead to serious collisions, crashes, or other devastating accidents. Transportation jobs—whether in the air, on the road, or along the tracks—leave little room for operator error. When these employees don’t get enough sleep, it cannot be taken lightly.

What is being done to remedy this issue? Some verticals have put in place hour restrictions and other measures to help reduce the risk for drowsy workers and increase safety in the transportation industry. For example, The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently instituted new rules for truck drivers aimed encouraging more rest and preventing fatigue.

Updated February 2016

FMCSA Regulations for Drowsy Driving

Some of the laws in place for truckers include:

  • Must take 30-minute break within first 8 hours of shift
  • Limited to a 14-hour work day
  • 70-hour minimum average work week
  • Must have 34 hours of consecutive rest before next work week

The administration now requires drivers to work a maximum of 70 hours per week, down from 82 hours. And drivers must take two days off for every five days on the road.

Why Pilots Need Plenty of Rest

One in four pilots reported their decision making while on the job was affected by feeling sleepy, while one in five admits to committing a serious error while on the job due to tiredness. There is no denying that these numbers can lead to increased commercial airline accidents.

Even with most pilots getting an average of seven hours of sleep each night—the recommended minimum—the issue still exists. Why? Pilots often have variable work schedules, working an average of 10.4 hours a day. However, only six perfect of pilots have a regular daily schedule according to the National Sleep Foundation. The variation can prevent a pilot from becoming truly rested before returning to the job, opening the door for fatigue, drowsiness, and shortened attention span. This can make decision-making and reaction time much slower and less efficient.

Ways to Combat Drowsiness on the Job

A good way to compensate for a poor night's rest is to nap during the day, if possible. 60 percent of pilots, 56 percent of train operators, and 42 percent of truck drivers nap during their work shifts, the study found. Among the non-transportation occupations, just 19 percent of all workers can do this. Making sure to carve out enough time for a solid night of rest, to have regular exercise, and to have healthy mealtimes can also improve sleep and decrease fatigue on the job. Our bodies tell us when we need rest. If we listen and rest when we can, all of us perform better on the job.