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Sleepy, driver? 10 signs you need a break

June 15, 2015
“Obtaining good sleep also requires training, just like you would train a driver how to shift gears for the best fuel economy, how to hook up and detach trailers to prevent injuries, etc.,” explains Dean Croke, vice president of Omnitracs Analytics. “For example, sleep is best achieved in a sleeper berth so dark a driver can’t see their hand in front of their face with an air temperature of around 65 deg. F.”   Here's how others can tell when a driver is pushing too hard.

While insomniacs are no more likely than their well-rested peers to miss work, they proved to be so consistently tired on the job that they’re much less effective, dragging through more than the equivalent of nearly 8 days of work in lost productivity per year. Yet the amount of sleep a human being needs not only varies between individuals but changes over time. The National Institute of Health (NIH) determined that nearly 30% of U.S. adults reported an average of less than six hours of sleep per day.

Dean Croke, vice president of Omnitracs Analytics, notes that when it comes to trucking, carriers tend to treat every hour of a driver’s day the same in terms of productivity, without consideration given to length of time behind the wheel or differentiation between day and night driving.

“Obtaining good sleep also requires training, just like you would train a driver how to shift gears for the best fuel economy, how to hook up and detach trailers to prevent injuries, etc.,” he argues. “For example, sleep is best achieved in a sleeper berth so dark a driver can’t see their hand in front of their face with an air temperature of around 65 deg. F.”

According to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 63% of Americans report that their sleep needs aren’t met during the week. This leads to chronic sleep deprivation that is frequently a root cause of decreased productivity, accidents, incidents, and mistakes costing billions of dollars each year, notes Nancy Rothstein, director of corporate sleep programs for fatigue risk management firm Circadian.

And for trucking companies, that could potentially lead to CSA violations and even accidents. Circadian compiled a list of the top 10 dangers posed by chronic sleep deprivation in the workforce.

According to Circadian, you can identify sleep-deprived drivers by recognizing these 10 common indicators.

1. Decreased communication

When workers are tired, they become poor communicators. The intensity of their voices drops; they pause for long intervals without apparent reason; they enunciate very poorly or mumble instructions inaudibly; they mispronounce, slur, or run words together; they repeat themselves or lose their place in a sentence sequence.

2. Performance deterioration

The average functional level of any sleep-deprived individual is comparable to the ninth percentile of non-sleep-deprived individuals. Sleep-deprived individuals also don’t recognize such performance deficits are occurring, and those deficits worsen as time on task increases.

3. Increased risk of becoming distracted

Sleep-deprived individuals have been shown to have trouble with maintaining focus on relevant cues, developing and updating strategies, keeping track of events, maintaining interest in outcomes, and attending to activities judged to be non-essential. In fact, Circadian noted that some research suggests that there is a symbiotic relationship between sleep deprivation and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) due to the overlap in symptoms.

4. Driving impairments

Data indicates 22 hours of sleep deprivation results in neurobehavioral performance impairments that are comparable to a 0.08% blood alcohol level; in other words, that level of sleep deprivation is equivalent to being legally drunk according to U.S. driving laws.

5. Increased number of errors

The cognitive detriments of sleep deprivation increase concurrently with a worker’s time on a given task, resulting in an increased number of errors including mistakes of both commission (i.e., performing an act that leads to harm) and omission (i.e., not performing an expected task), which can wreak havoc at any work facility. Errors are especially likely in subject-paced tasks, in which cognitive slowing occurs, and with tasks that are time-sensitive which cause increases in cognitive errors.

6. Poor cognitive assimilation and memory

Short-term and working memory declines are associated with sleep deprivation and result in a decreased ability to develop and update strategies based on new information, along with the ability to remember the temporal sequence of events.

7. Poor mood-appropriate behavior

Inappropriate mood-related behavior often occurs in outbursts with sleep-deprived individuals, including irritability, impatience, childish humor, lack of regard for normal social conventions, inappropriate interpersonal behaviors, and unwillingness to engage in forward planning.

8. Greater risk-taking behavior

Brain imaging studies have shown that sleep deprivation is associated with increased activation in regions related for risky decision-making, while areas that control rationale and logical thinking show lower levels of activation. In fact, sleep deprivation increases one’s expectation of gains while diminishing the implications of losses. Thus, sleep-deprived workers may be making riskier decisions, ignoring the potential negative implications, and taking gambles in scenarios in which the losses outweigh the benefits.

9. Inability to make necessary adjustments

Flexible thinking, preservation on thoughts and actions, updating strategies based on new information, ability to think divergently, and innovation are all negatively impacted by sleep deprivation.

10. Effects of sleep deprivation compounds across nights

Four or more nights of partial sleep deprivation containing less than seven hours of sleep per night can be equivalent to a total night of sleep deprivation. A single night of total sleep deprivation can affect, thus impact, proper functioning for up to two weeks.

For more tips on helping drivers get the proper rest, read Sean Kilcarr’s report over the Fleet Owner side of the Web:  Sleep Tight: Helping drivers rest.

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