Thursday, April 05, 2012

Tips for a Better Night's Sleep if You're Sleepy on the Job

There's no denying that sleep deprivation, and the health issues that result, are becoming more prevalent in our go-go, techno society. But a recent sleep study by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) grabbed my attention as particular cause for concern.

Every year, the NSF releases a Sleep in America® poll. For its 2012 survey, the NSF examined the specific sleep habits and work performances of transportation workers -- pilots, train operators, and truck, bus, taxi and limousine drivers. The transportation workers were asked about the duration and quality of their sleep, specifically on work nights, and how it affects their work performance.

Some of the results of the survey were:

• About one-fourth of the train operators and pilots polled said that sleepiness has affected their job performance at least once a week.

• One in five pilots polled -- about 20 percent -- said they have made a "serious error" as a result of on-the-job sleepiness.

• One in five pilots and one in six train operators admit to a "near miss" due to on-the-job sleepiness.

• Pilots and train operators are more likely than non-transportation workers to have been involved in a sleep-related car accident while commuting.

• Among all workers surveyed, train operators and pilots report the most work day sleep dissatisfaction.

• Almost two-thirds of train operators and one-half of pilots say they rarely or never get a good night's sleep on work nights.

• About one-third of bus, taxi, and limo drivers said they rarely or never get a good night's sleep on work nights.

The results of the poll are some cause for alarm and reinforce the growing problem of sleep disorders and the potential risks they pose, such as commuter car accidents and errors by public transportation drivers responsible for many people.

Persistent sleep problems left untreated can also lead to myriad health problems, including memory and concentration problems, increased risk of high blood pressure, hypertension, stroke and heart attacks, depression, diabetes and sexual dysfunction. Severe cases of sleep apnea can even be fatal.

Besides these sobering health risks, an untreated sleep disorder can also be the root cause of poor performance at work or school, car accidents and other activities that require focus and concentration.

Common Symptoms of Sleep Disorders

Many people experience some occasional difficulty sleeping and/or daytime fatigue. But how does a person know if he or she has a temporary sleep problem that can be remedied with some simple behavioral changes or if it is a legitimate disorder, such as snoring, sleep apnea, sinusitis or nasal obstruction that should be diagnosed and treated properly?

The first step is to be aware of some common symptoms of sleep disorders. Keep in mind that symptoms vary between disorders, such as snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, nasal obstruction, and narcolepsy, so it pays to do some research based on what you are personally experiencing.

Some common symptoms of sleep disorders include:

• Trouble falling asleep at night

• Waking throughout the night

• Chronic snoring

• Morning headaches

• Poor memory

• Daytime sleepiness/falling asleep during the day/low energy

• Bad moods/ irritability

• Increased depression

• Trouble concentrating/driving/making decisions

The Link Between Lifestyle and Sleep Problems

If you or someone you know is experiencing some of the above common symptoms of sleep disorders, the next step is to examine if lifestyle habits are contributing to the difficulty sleeping, fatigue and irritability during the day and other symptoms.

Some behavioral and lifestyle questions to ask include:

• Am I watching TV or using the computer late at night and too close to bedtime?

• Am I consuming too much caffeine during the day?

• Am I taking a medication that may be affecting my sleep quality and duration?

• Is there something particularly stressful going on in my life that is causing me worry and anxiety?

• Am I exercising enough to help alleviate some of that stress and tension?

See a Specialist -- And Be Specific

Many sleep problems can be remedied by making some common-sense behavioral changes. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing one or more of the above symptoms on a regular basis, see a qualified ear, nose and throat doctor or otolaryngologist to get diagnosed and treated properly. There are multiple options and minimally-invasive techniques available today to treat your sleep disorder.

When you see a specialist, be specific about the symptoms you are experiencing. Many times, sleep apnea and other sleep disorders can be misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue, insomnia, depression, or some other non-specific condition. Some doctors, for example, still associate sleep apnea more with men than women, and are too quick to prescribe a medication, rather than do a full sleep disorder work up.

It may help to keep a sleep log (or, more accurately, lack-of-sleep log) next to your bed to write down what you are experiencing, when you wake and some symptoms you experience. Again, to try and avoid misdiagnosis, go to a qualified sleep specialist and be specific about your symptoms. Don't wait -- it could save your life.

To read the full report, see "Sleepy Pilots, Train Operators and Drivers" on the National Sleep Foundation website.

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