INTERVENTIONS TO PROMOTE SLEEP HEALTH AMONG EMPLOYEES
While refueling the tank is essential to keep your truck running, sleep is just as important to keep drivers operating at peak performance. Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sleep deprivation is a reality for the 35% of Americans who are not sleeping seven or more hours per night, as recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
IN THE INDUSTRY
Transportation workers are especially prone to the harmful consequences of fatigue. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports that fatigue plays a role in nearly 20% of all accident investigations, which includes all commercial forms of transportation as well as trucking. The CDC also reports that transportation workers, including those in the trucking industry, have some of the highest rates of short sleep, at an average of 39.1%, increasing the risk of drowsy driving on the road. Drowsy driving is a problem for all drivers, as the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that 9.5% of all crashes and 10.8% of crashes involving significant property damage involve drowsiness.
In addition to promoting alertness and performance, sleep is also essential for health. Chronic insufficient sleep is associated with an increased risk of several serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. The increased health problems of fatigued drivers can lead to higher employer health care costs, a trend that can be reversed by screening for and treating sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.
As the employer, it is important to understand the cost that sleep-deprived workers have on your company. Accidents, mistakes, and absenteeism caused by insufficient sleep cost the US economy approximately $411 billion each year, according to RAND Corporation research. To put this in perspective, the National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that a typical employer with 1,000 employees can expect to lose more than $1 million each year due to fatigue.
There are helpful strategies to implement that improve sleep duration. Establishing limits on the number of hours worked ensures individuals obtain a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night, as does require a minimum of 10 to 11 consecutive hours away from work during a 24-hour period. The federal government limits commercial driving to 60 hours on duty in seven consecutive days or 70 hours on duty in eight consecutive days. Additionally, there is an 11-hour driving limit for property-carrying drivers after 10 consecutive hours off duty. Passenger-carrying drivers have a 10-hour driving limit after eight consecutive hours off duty. These are important steps toward establishing healthy sleep for drivers.
Other improvements can be more difficult to implement in the trucking industry. Modifying environmental factors, such as lighting, can promote worker well-being and alertness. While lighting is not easily manipulated in trucking, it can help to avoid night driving as much as possible, especially between the hours of midnight and 6 am when people are the most naturally drowsy.
The best antidote for fatigue is to get adequate nightly sleep, which means drivers need to make time to sleep seven or more hours per night on a regular basis. If that is not possible, consider promoting the use of short naps during work breaks. When employees stop for gas or a restroom break, it provides a natural opportunity to take a 10-20 minute nap. Other recommendations include taking a brief walk so drivers can stretch their legs during regular stops. Caffeine, used in repeated small amounts, but not close to bedtime, can promote alertness but doesn’t replace the need for sleep. It is important to stay hydrated and eat healthy food, too.
One of the best ways to improve sleep for employees is providing a sleep education program, such as that offered by the Welltrinsic Sleep Network. A sleep-focused wellness program can help employees understand how healthy sleep can improve their overall health. The best programs offer a variety of ways to improve sleep understanding along with specific calls to action to change behavior. Some key components of a sleep wellness program include:
Learning about the role of sleep in daily life, the importance of both a sufficient quantity and healthy quality of sleep, and common sleep disorders are beneficial in making changes to daily habits. This comes in multiple formats such as online videos or an on-site program.
Sleep tracking performed with a wearable tracker, mobile app, or sleep diary helps employees understand their individual sleep needs. Creating a “sleep wellness score” and setting personalized goals, providing tips, and ongoing feedback offers an environment for drivers to improve their overall sleep health.
After providing employees a wellness score, the program can generate tips and feedback based on an individual’s personalized sleep tracking. The platform then encourages employees who may be at risk for a potential sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, to make an appointment at an accredited sleep center.
Up to 70 million Americans have a chronic sleep disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health, and many are undiagnosed. Research from FMCSA found that 28% of commercial truck drivers have sleep apnea. Left untreated, sleep apnea can put individuals at risk for problems at work, including daytime sleepiness. Using a system, such as a wellness program, to connect workers with a healthcare provider or an accredited sleep center enables employers to mitigate health problems for employees and potential risks on the road.
Keep drivers engaged by offering incentives to employees as part of the wellness program. These rewards could vary from extra paid time off or reduced health insurance premiums to gift cards or promotional items, serving as positive reinforcement for a healthy lifestyle.
Drivers need to sleep for optimal health and safety. Sufficient, healthy sleep can boost individual performance, which can improve the company’s bottom line. A sleep-focused wellness program can educate employees and help reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and driver safety, and improve road safety nationwide.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lawrence Epstein, MD, is the president and CEO of Welltrinsic Sleep Network. He is a past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and is board-certified in sleep medicine, pulmonary disease, critical care medicine, and internal medicine. He is an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and program director of the Sleep Medicine Fellowship Program at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.
MODERN WORK TRUCK SOLUTIONS:
AUGUST 2019 ISSUE
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