Study: Truckers rank high among sleep-deprived workers

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The share of Americans who don’t get enough sleep is getting larger, says a new study from Ball State University. Not only are professional drivers among those suffering the most, they’re seeing above-average growth each year in those reporting sleep deprivation.

From 2010 to 2018, the prevalence of inadequate sleep — seven hours or less — increased from 30.9% of respondents in 2010 to 35.6% in 2018, according to the study. No specific cause could be identified for the trend, said Jagdish Khubchandani, lead author and a health science professor at Ball State.

The number of professional drivers who have experienced above-average growth in sleep deprivation has increased dramatically during the last decade.The number of professional drivers who have experienced above-average growth in sleep deprivation has increased dramatically during the last decade.

In 2018, professions with the highest levels of poor sleep were those in categories where 24-hour shift work is common: the police and military (50%), health care support (45%), transport and material moving (41%), and production (41%).

For those in the transport category, the share considered sleep-deprived rose from 32% in 2010 to 41% in 2018, an increase of 28%. The study did not say how many of those in the transport category are long-haul truck drivers.

“Inadequate sleep is associated with mild to severe physical and mental health problems, injury, loss of productivity, and premature mortality,” Khubchandani said. “This is a significant finding because the U.S. is currently witnessing high rates of chronic diseases across all ages, and many of these diseases are related to sleep problems.”

Over the nine years studied, the largest increases in sleep deprivation were reported by men, multiracial individuals, older adults, those living in the western U.S., and widowed, divorced, or separated people.

It’s no surprise that truckers, being mostly male and older, would tend to be among those with large increases in sleep deprivation.

“There is no definitive cause found for these trends in sleep duration in working American population,” Khubchandani said. Citing studies by other researchers, he noted some possible causations. “We see the workplace is changing as Americans work longer hours, and there is greater access and use of technology and electronic devices, which tend to keep people up at night. Add to this the progressive escalation in workplace stress in the United States, and the rising prevalence of multiple chronic conditions could be related to short sleep duration in working American adults.”

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The study also found:

  • For men, about 30.5% reported getting 7 or less hours of sleep in 2010 and by 2018 about 35.5% reporting inadequate sleep.
  • Among women, those reported too little sleep grew from 31.2% in 2011 to 35.8% in 2018.
  • By race and inadequate sleep prevalence, the trend from 2010-2018 was 29.2 to 34.1% for whites, 40.6 to 46.5% for African-Americans, 29.5 to 35.3% for Asians, and 35.2 to 45.2% for multiracial adults.

Khubchandani warns that over-the-counter sleep-aid medication may be making life miserable for millions of Americans. Many of these drugs can have side effects, including worsening of insomnia when inappropriately prescribed or used.

The study, “Short Sleep Duration in Working American Adults,” analyzed more than 150,000 working adults. It was posted Monday by the Journal of Community Health.