Part of the “Make Sleep a Priority” Series
(July 18, 2018) — Sleep disorders are not just a problem for individuals. Insufficient sleep has serious economic consequences for businesses and for the whole economy.
A recent study by the RAND Corporation found that the cost of lost productivity due to sleep deprivation came to $411 billion in the United States, equivalent to 2.28 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP). Similar losses around the world amounted to 1.35 percent of GDP in Canada, 1.86 percent in the United Kingdom, 1.56 percent in Germany, and 2.92 percent in Japan.
Two areas in which sleep problems can profoundly affect workers and employers are shift work and trucking.
Between 10 percent and 40 percent of people whose work schedule falls out side the typical 9 to 5 day suffer from shift work sleep disorder, including increased likelihood of accidents and work-related errors, health problems, drug and alcohol dependency, moodiness, and impaired social functioning.
One study found that medical residents working overnight shifts—a common practice—have far more serious errors than their colleagues working 16-hour shifts.
“In recent years, employers have become more aware of sleep problems that can arise from shift work,” said Dr. Anuj Chandra, medical director of the Advanced Center for Sleep Disorders in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Many employers are making adjustments in the workplace to keep shift workers safe and productive, but much more needs to be done.”
The National Sleep Foundation recommends these steps to keep shift workers alert and healthy:
Keep the work environment cool and bright. During the night, as little as 20-30 minutes of bright light in the first half of a shift can help.
Make the work space movement friendly. Workers need to be able to stand up, stretch, or take a short walk to avoid sitting in one place for a long time.
Rearrange work tasks. If possible, the work that demands the most concentration or has the highest safety risk should be done when workers are most alert.
Schedule shifts to reduce the demand on the body. Avoid more than a few night shifts in a row, and schedule at least two days off after night shifts. Avoid rotating shifts frequently. If shifts must be rotated, move them forward—going from day to evening, evening to night, or night to morning—rather than going the other way.
Drowsy driving is a problem for everyone—according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, police report about 100,000 crashes every year involving drowsy driving, including more than 1,550 fatalities. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates much higher numbers: 328,000 drowsy driving crashes a year, with 6,400 fatalities.
Truck drivers are especially at risk because of long hours on the road and tight deadlines. Commercial and long-haul trucks are so much larger and heavier than private vehicles that a crash is more likely to cause fatal injuries. In 2007, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that driver fatigue was a critical factor in 13 percent of all accidents involving big trucks.
Increasing awareness of the risks involved in truckers driving drowsy has led to new safety requirements from the FMCSA that all truck drivers are required to obey: Commercial drivers can have no more than 14 hours on duty (including no more than 11 hours driving) after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
“Trucking companies are doing much more to screen drivers for untreated sleep apnea, which is one of the biggest dangers for truck drivers,” said Dr. Chandra. “Daytime fatigue because of sleep apnea is a long-term health risk for anyone, but for someone driving a big truck, it could be the last straw that make it really hard for them to stay awake and avoid and accident.”
The FMCSA also offers these tips for drivers to avoid catastrophic fatigue:
Get enough sleep before driving. If possible, avoid driving during the hours when your body is naturally drowsy, from midnight to 6 a.m. and 2–4 p.m.
Eat a healthy diet. Irregular meal times or skipping meals can lead to fatigue.
Take a nap. If you’re feeling drowsy, a 10-45 minute nap can help. Wait least 15 minutes after waking up before driving.
Avoid medications that could cause drowsiness. A warning label saying you should not operate heavy machinery while using it is an obvious “no.” Common medications that might cause drowsiness include tranquilizers, sleeping pills, allergy medicines, and cold medicines. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible drug interactions that could cause drowsiness.
Take signs of drowsiness seriously. If you experience frequent yawning, heavy eyes, and blurred vision, don’t attempt to push through. Take a rest.
Don’t depend on alertness tricks. Things like smoking, drinking coffee, turning up the radio, and opening the window will not keep you alert for long.
This article is part of “Make Sleep a Priority,” Dr. Anuj Chandra’s education program to encourage healthy sleep. For other articles, visit SleepForHealth.org. Or follow the Advanced Center for Sleep Disorders on Facebook or Twitter (@AdvancedSleep).