About 15 million Americans work full time on evening shift, night shift, rotating shifts or other irregular work schedules, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With these varying shifts comes an increased number of safety risks, most notably those associated with drowsy driving.
Estimates indicate more than 6,000 deaths annually can be attributed to drowsy driving while the actual instances of driving while sleep deprived are underreported, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"The components of creativity, judgement and vitality are the biggest part of the effect when it comes to whether people are going to sleep well," said Dr. Jeffrey Durmer, chief medical officer at FusionHealth.
The average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep to be fully rested. However, even cutting back by one hour can cause a person to be less focused and slow his or her response time on the job, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
If a worker lacks sleep, they are more likely to show poor judgment and become complacent behind the wheel. In fact, employees who work night shifts, rotating shifts, double shifts or work more than one job have a six-fold increase in drowsy driving crashes, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Furthermore, staying awake for 17 hours or more could present the same effects as having alcohol in your bloodstream, Durmer said.
Durmer has focused his research as a neurologist, systems neuroscientist and board-certified sleep medicine physician on the effects of drowsy driving. He works directly with commercial trucking clients on identifying the risks associated with drowsy driving as well as the application of risk management programs to not only reduce incidents but also improve company performance and employee wellness.
An effective sleep program not only is a form of risk management, but a form of preventative healthcare because it improves the vitality and energy of employees well-being of employees, Durmer said.
Whether the underlying issue is health-related or behavioral, encouraging employees to consistently receive a good night's sleep and providing coaching to educate workers about sleep hygiene potentially could assist workers with the treatment and prevention of both underlying health issues while also reducing drowsy driving accidents.
"It just makes a lot of sense for businesses to implement programs that are more efficient, deliver directly and change the well-being of a company's employees," he said.
There are three factors that affect performance the most: quality of sleep, the quantity of sleep and the timing of sleep. When you change any of those variables are changed, the ability of sleep to impact performance on the job is affected.
However, even when an individual has enough time to get rest, medical conditions, living environment and personal choices can affect one's ability to obtain quality sleep, he said.
"Sleep loss is across the entire spectrum, young and old, and a large systematic problem,"Durmer said. "Employers need to look at the human performance of that specialized labor force so they can actually produce the best they can."
STOP: Do Not Pass Go
The warning signs of drowsy driving sometimes are hard to recognize. The National Sleep Foundation says if you recognize the following signs, you should not be driving:
- Trouble focusing, keeping your eyes open or your head up.
- Yawning or rubbing your eyes repeatedly.
- Daydreaming and wandering thoughts.
- Drifting from your lane, tailgating and missing signs or exits.
- Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive.
- Turning up the radio or rolling down the window.
- Slower reaction time, poor judgment.