Have you ever considered how transportation workers’ sleep patterns affect your safety? With the summer travel season in full swing, let’s take a look at how sleepiness affects those who operate the most common modes of transportation we use to get to our favorite destinations.

Let’s go with the good news first. The majority (69%) of pilots, train operators, truck, bus and taxi drivers report that they get a good night’s sleep, according to results from the National Sleep Foundation’s 2012 Sleep in America Poll.

Now for the bad news: When respondents were asked how many hours they slept in a 24-hour period, six in ten report getting six hours of sleep or fewer each night. Among those most likely to say their weekday routine does not allow for adequate sleep were train operators (44%) and pilots (37%).

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Furthermore, one in twenty respondents reported that lack of sleep impaired their work performance in the two weeks preceding the survey. Broken down by profession, this included 23% of pilots surveyed, 15% of truck drivers and 10% of bus and taxi drivers.

Sleep apnea was the most common sleep disorder participants reported, affecting 70% of pilots, 82% of truck drivers, 86% of bus and taxi drivers and 88% of train operators. Many participants also reported insomnia, shift work disorder and restless leg syndrome.

At least there is one saving grace: Many participants reported napping during mandatory interim rest periods, with nearly eight in ten pilots surveyed (79%) reporting they take advantage of time allotted for sleep.

On another positive note, the majority of respondents scored normal on the Epworth Sleepiness scale, which measures how likely a participant would be to fall asleep in various situations.

We as health-care providers have a duty to screen transportation workers for sleep issues. Think about the aforementioned statistics the next time you are depending on public transportation to get you or your loved ones from point A to point B. Did the operator get enough sleep last night?

In my experience it’s not uncommon for transportation workers to feel apprehensive about reporting sleep problems, because they fear they could lose their jobs. When discussing sleep issues with this population, remind patients that you not only care about their health, but also the lives of those who could be injured. Remind them that you are an advocate for their health and are not trying to put them out of work. Once this is put into perspective, these patients usually have no trouble opening up.

Sharon M. O’Brien, MPAS, PA-C, works at Presbyterian Sleep Health in Charlotte, N.C. Her main interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.


  1. National Sleep Foundation. 2012 Sleep in America Poll: Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Sleep. Washington (DC): The Foundation; 2012 Mar.