By Dr John O’Reilly is a Consultant Physician and a European accredited Sleep Specialist at Sleephubs.com
Europe’s leading sleep experts are helping firms ensure their long distance drivers are getting sufficient and good quality sleep.
Less than five hours sleep is equivalent to being drunk with alcohol intoxication in a driving simulator yet at any one time, only 35% of any company’s workforce is getting good, regular sleep. As a nation we are sleeping less and less – over 30% of us only sleep five-to-six hours per night. One third of UK adults believe they suffer from sleepless nights and insomnia
200,000 working days are lost each year due to insufficient sleep. It is estimated to cost the UK economy over £30 billion a year, equivalent to almost 2% of GDP.
Sleephubs is Europe’s best virtual sleep service and is helping delivery and haulage companies improve the sleep and wellbeing of their drivers.
Most people are unaware they have a sleep issue because it can creep up on them gradually. Yet sleep is important, adults ideally need 7-8 hours sleep – (5 x 1.5 hours cycles of deep and REM) to maintain normal brain (cognitive) function.
Sleep deprivation leads to cognitive impairment (unclear thinking), impaired decision making, fatigue and increased risk of accidents when driving. Major industrial and road accidents have been attributed to lack of sleep.
Improved sleep leads to improved patience, better mood, improved relations with colleagues and ability to concentrate for longer periods of time.
Driving is sedentary and drivers are particularly at risk of putting on weight. Addressing a weight associated sleep problem (snoring, apnoea) can take up to six months for a diagnosis and involve multiple NHS appointments. Sleephubs offers simple online diagnosis tools and drivers can have their treatment and outcomes monitored remotely.
It is estimated that about 1.5 million people in the UK suffer from Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), although doctors warn most people will have never been formally diagnosed.
The bigger picture cost
Taking the American example – there is an estimated 29.4m people in the US suffering from OSA, 23.5m are undiagnosed. Annual per patient diagnosis and treatment costs are 67% less than leaving patients undiagnosed.
Furthermore, OSA suffers cost $26.2 m in motor vehicle accidents ($20m attributed to commercial vehicle accidents) and $6.5 million in workplace accidents. Loss of productivity is set at $86.9 m
According to the American Academy on Sleep Medicine, diagnosing and treating all 29.4M Americans with OSA could save $100.1 billion.
A legal duty
Employers have a legal duty to manage risk from fatigue and sleep deprivation and employees have a duty not to drive if excessively sleepy.
What can an employer do?
Employers can help drivers identify sleep problems and improve time management and sleep hygiene, leading to better sleep and performance both at work and at home. Simple questionnaires can identify issues including insomnia, sleep apnoea and restless legs, for which specific help and treatment is available.
Though sleep and recovery might be a new topic to consider, everyone understands the benefits of a night of improved sleep.
Working with the team at Sleephubs, one firm recently assessed the quality of sleep being achieved by their staff. Out of 250 employees, who were generally fit and active, 22 were recommended to take part in a 24-day sleep programme called The TweakSleep Challenge. This programme helps people re-learn how to sleep well again and become engaged and more confident, better sleepers.
Participation was simple and took only a few mins each day, with each participant submitting a quick and simple email sleep diary every morning. This was assessed by a sleep expert who identified the main issues and then a sleep coach discussed with the participant, what “tweak” they need to adopt as routine, followed by a fortnight of practise.
Within two weeks, on average, all were getting an extra half an hour of sleep each night, feeling better and improving their sleep quality by +10% without spending more time in bed. Some people achieved an extra hour per night or more.