Sleep Deprivation Affecting Workers in Safety and Health Industries

Source: Syahrir Maulana - 123RF

A recent NPR report shows that Americans are losing sleep on average.

This trend was particularly prevalent for police and health care workers, along with those in the transportation field, such as truck drivers.

A study from researchers from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey. It looked at self-reports of sleep duration among 15,000 adults working in different occupations from 2010 to 2018.

Researchers found that the prevalence of inadequate sleep (less than seven hours) went from 30.9 percent to 35.6 percent in those eight years.

Police officers and health care workers deal first-hand with crime, life-and-death situations, dangerous environments, and unconventional hours. Around half of the respondents reported getting an average of five or six hours of sleep.

According to research by the US Dept of Health and Human Services (HHS), more than half of firefighters surveyed (59%) reported sleep deprivation.

Sleep disturbance, fatigue, and work-related accidents are common among shift workers.

Other startling statistics related to lack of sleep include:

  • Binge drinking behavior (58%);
  • Poor mental well-being (21%), and
  • Current nicotine use (20%).

Stress is also a factor, especially among health care workers. Dealing with severe illnesses and injuries throughout the day, coping with life-or-death situations, can make it challenging to let go at night. In the survey, 45% of these workers reported getting less than seven hours of sleep a night.

Researchers say employers should use health promotion strategies to ensure that workers who struggle with sleep problems are assisted. For example, employers can use education programs to teach employees strategies to deal with stress.

Even in less stressful jobs than health care or public safety, anxiety about things such as deadlines at work, pressure on the job or taking care of kids can take a toll on sleep, according to University of Michigan clinical psychologist Todd Arnedt, who specializes in treating patients with insomnia. “Probably the most common thing I hear from people is that ‘I’m not able to shut my mind down at night, my mind is running about what I’ve got to do the next day.’ ”

Arnedt suggests a “wind-down period before bedtime.” This should be done in dim light conditions. People should not be on their tablet, smartphone or other electronics that emit light. They should engage in quiet, relaxing, sedentary activities. “Mindfulness meditation is a great activity to engage in prior to going to bed,” he says.

According to NIOSH, fatigued or drowsy driving has been identified as a major cause of truck crashes. A primary reason for occupational fatigue is incompatible timing of duty schedules relative to circadian rhythm and the need for sleep.

Age and body mass index (BMI) are also contributing factors to fatigue.

Most health professionals advise that people can make lifestyle changes that might help them sleep better — things like a healthy diet, exercise, and meditation.