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Poll: Train operators, pilots report most sleep problems

Posted on March 7, 2012

Pilots and train operators are most likely to report sleep-related job performance and safety problems, according to the National Sleep Foundation's (NSF) 2012 Sleep in America poll. It is the first poll to ask transportation professionals, including pilots; train operators; and truck bus, taxi and limo drivers about their sleep habits and work performance.

The results of the poll are striking. About one-fourth of train operators (26%) and pilots (23%) admit that sleepiness has affected their job performance at least once a week, compared to about one in six non-transportation workers (17%).

Perhaps more disturbingly, a significant number say that sleepiness has caused safety problems on the job. One in five pilots (20%) admit that they have made a serious error and one in six train operators (18%) and truck drivers (14%) say that they have had a "near miss" due to sleepiness.

Sleepiness has also played a role in car accidents commuting to and from work. Pilots and train operators are significantly more likely than non-transportation workers (6% each, compared to 1%) to say that they have been involved in a car accident due to sleepiness while commuting.

Among all workers surveyed, train operators and pilots report the most work day sleep dissatisfaction. Almost two-thirds of train operators (57%) and one-half of pilots (50%) say they rarely or never get a good night's sleep on work nights, compared to 44% of truck drivers and 42% of non-transportation workers. Bus, taxi, and limo drivers report the best work day sleep satisfaction, with about one-third (29%) saying they rarely or never get a good night's sleep on work nights.

Roughly one in 10 Americans say they are likely to fall asleep at an inappropriate time and place, such as during a meeting or while driving. The poll included a validated assessment tool used by doctors to determine whether a person is "sleepy." The study finds that 11% of pilots; train operators; and bus, taxi and limo drivers, as well as 8% of truck drivers and 7% of non-transportation workers are "sleepy."

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, according to NSF.

Many transportation workers cite their schedule as a major contributor to sleep problems. Almost one-half of train operators (44%) and more than one-third of pilots (37%) report that their current work schedule does not allow adequate time for sleep, compared to about one-fourth of non-transportation workers and truck drivers (27% each) and one-fifth of bus, taxi and limo drivers (20%).

In general, transportation professionals work more varied shifts than other workers, which may play a role in their sleep problems. Only 6% of pilots and 47% of train operators say they work the same work schedule each day, compared to 76% of non-transportation workers.

Time off between shifts may play a role in transportation workers' sleepiness. Non-transportation workers report having an average of 14.2 hours off between shifts, compared to 12.9 hours for pilots; 12.5 for train operators; 12.1 for truck drivers; and 11.2 hours for bus, taxi and limo drivers. If given one more hour off between work shifts, over one-half of pilots (56%) and train operators (54%) report that they would use that hour for sleep.

Long commutes cut into transportation workers' already shortened time between shifts. Pilots report the longest commutes with 37% saying it takes more than an hour to get to work from home. Pilots and train operators have the highest average commute time of 45.5 minutes and 31 minutes, respectively, compared to a 23.8 minute average for non-transportation workers. Other research has consistently found that longer commute times have been associated with shorter individual sleep times.

The poll shows that transportation professionals are taking more naps than other workers. More than one-half of pilots (58%) and train operators (56%) take at least one nap on work days, compared to about one-fourth of non-transportation workers (27%). About one in five pilots (20%), bus, taxi and limo drivers (20%), truck drivers (16%) and train operators (16%) say they take three to five naps during the work week. Among those who report napping on work days, one-half of pilots (50%); almost one-half of truck drivers (42%); one-third of train operators (33%); and nearly one-fourth of bus, taxi and limo drivers (24%) say they actually napped during work hours in the past two weeks, compared to about one in five non-transportation workers (19%).

For more information about the National Sleep Foundation's 2012 poll, click here.

 

 

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