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Transportation Workers and Sleep: How Tired is Your Pilot?

Veronica538 at work as truckdriver

Do you know just how tired your pilot may be?  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The focus of this year’s National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll was sleep and its impact on transportation workers.  Poll participants this year included the pilots, train operators, cab drivers, truck drivers, and others who move us and all the goods we need to all the places we need to go.  Sleep is critical for everyone and being sleepy can cause dangerous driving conditions for all drivers.  For people in these professions, being overtired can have devastating consequences and the National Sleep Foundation wanted to determine if, as a group, they are experiencing a high rate of daytime sleepiness.  The results may not be comforting, especially for those who travel a lot.


Poll Details

The poll included more than 1,000 participants comprised of pilots, truck drivers, train operators, taxi/limo drivers, and a control group comprised of people who do not work in the transportation field.  The objectives of the poll were as follows:

  • Compare the sleep habits of transportation workers across a variety of professions
  • Compare the sleep habits of transportation workers with people who work in other fields
  • Look at how transportation workers are coping with inadequate sleep
  • Determine how the schedules of transportation workers impact their sleep

Each participant completed an online survey that captured important facts about their experiences with sleep, daytime sleepiness, and the often unusual schedules required by people in these types of careers.



One of the key findings in the Sleep in America poll this year was that pilots and train operators report the most problems with both job performance and safety that are related to their sleep patterns.  Almost 25% of respondents in both of these groups report that being overtired and excessively sleepy impacts they way they do their job on a weekly basis.  This is not only alarming from a safety perspective, but indicates that sleep is definitely a problem for many people in these two professions.

Being alarmed about the safety implications of this finding appears warranted when you consider another finding from the poll.  When asked if sleepiness contributed to a safety problem on the job, 1 in 5 pilots that participated in the poll admitted they had made significant errors as a direct result of being overtired.  The results for train operators and truck drivers didn’t offer any comfort either as 18% and 14% of these respondents reported having a near-miss that can be attributed to sleepiness.

What should set alarm bells off is that pilots and truck drivers are two of the professions for whom sleep and rest mandates and regulations are already the strictest.  If this many pilots and drivers are continuing to experience problems with sleepiness that endanger the lives of their passengers, we need to understand why the mandatory rest periods aren’t working and determine what else needs to be done to protect the public.

Sleepiness is a problem across Americans, not just amongst transportation workers.  The NSF reports that 1 in 10 adults report being excessively sleepy or falling asleep at inappropriate times.  People who struggle getting enough sleep should work with their doctor to determine if there is an underlying issue causing the sleepiness and to work on improving their sleep hygiene.


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