In a recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, transportation workers in a variety of fields were asked about their sleep habits, how sleepy they are, and how sleep impacts their job performance.  The findings in some areas were startling, especially when you consider the catastrophic consequences that can result from a pilot, train operator, bus driver, or truck driver falling asleep “at the wheel.”


How is Sleepiness Measured?

One tool used by many doctors to measure and assess daytime sleepiness is the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS).  Developed by Dr. Murray Johns at Epworth Hospital in Australia in 1991, the scale can be helpful in diagnosing some sleep disorders and indicate that further testing is warranted for others.

To determine how much of a problem daytime sleepiness is for a specific person, a doctor or other sleep professional asks the person to rate their likelihood of falling asleep from none (0) to high (3) during specific activities like reading or driving in a car.  The scores are added up to determine the person’s sleepiness score.

A final result of over 10 indicates the person is sleepier than what is considered normal.  If the person scores from 11-15, they may have mild to moderate sleep apnea.  A score over 16 can point to severe sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

The ESS is also used to assess improvements in overall sleepiness after treatment to determine effectiveness.


The Realities of Daytime Sleepiness

When you are too sleepy, your ability to respond and react to things becomes compromised.  Your reaction time is decreased which makes it impossible for you to make the kind of split second decisions needed when doing things like driving.  Your reflexes are also diminished making it more difficult for you to respond to circumstances in a predictable manner.  Sleepiness makes it difficult to concentrate and significantly decreases your attention span.

When you are overly sleepy, you are at a higher risk for falling asleep at the wheel while driving and being involved in an accident at work.  At a certain point, sleepiness causes impairment on the level of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.   Your hand-eye coordination suffers and you are more likely to act impulsively and make bad decisions because your judgment is impaired.


How Sleepy are You?

If you are wondering how sleepy you are on a regular basis, you can take the NSF’s sleep quiz based on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to determine if you are sleepy enough to warrant looking into the cause of your sleepiness.  If your score indicates that you are on the sleepy side, it may be a good idea to meet with your doctor to discuss your sleep habits and any concerns you have about sleep.  The long term consequences of sleep-deprivation like higher risks for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer are significant and serious in their own right.  However, when you factor in the short term problems excessive daytime sleepiness can cause, like car accidents, getting enough sleep seems more important than ever.


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