Sleep Deprivation: Big Problem In A 24-Hour Society

By Edgar Linares, NewsRadio 830 WCCO

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota doctor says he’s not surprised to hear of air traffic controllers falling asleep at work. He says the United States has become a “24-hour society,” and that some important jobs involving public safety are often done by workers that are sleep deprived.

“This is a big problem throughout many industrial sectors,” said Dr. Michel Cramer Bornemann, who runs the Sleep Disorder Center at Hennepin County Medical Center.

“Sleep is a biological imperative of which we cannot escape,” Bornemann said. “We have to develop our own responsibility for our own health and safety …. We, as individuals, need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.”

Bornemann pointed out that truckers are known to drive all night. Some firefighters work 24 hours a day; nurses work multiple shifts as do police officers; and recently air traffic controllers have been caught sleeping on the job.

“To see this in the trucking industry, hospitals systems, as well as the FAA is a common problem, and to see this come to a head in this particular section is not a surprise to me whatsoever, ” Bornemann said.

A second air traffic controller was on duty overnight at the Duluth International Airport because of the fallout nationally from controllers caught napping on the job. Duluth is among 27 airports around the country that assigned a second controller during the graveyard shift. The Minneapolis St. Paul airport already has 4 ATC’s working the midnight shift.

“Certain industrial sectors can impose duty hour limitations to ensure safety for their own organization. But first and foremost we must have individual responsibility and respect for our own personal and public health and safety,” said Bornemann.

Bornemann said industries that have people working overnight or late night shifts should adopt a “checks and balances” system, where there is a shared responsibility between people.

“An example of that would be pilots. You have a pilot and co-pilot and they go through a check list,” Bornemann said. “They go through this entire check list of safety procedures.”

He says some industries that require late night or overnight shifts should take a step back and look at how they can ensure their employees will get enough sleep to work at an optimal level. He also says there’s nothing wrong with taking a nap when appropriate.

“I would say during certain circumstances, during a break it would be appropriate to incorporate a 10-minute sleep period or a 15-minute sleep period,” Bornemann said. “That would be a means to minimize insufficient sleep that’s been accumulated during a regular course of a work week.”

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  • Katie

    The medical community is guilty of having staff work 12 hour shifts, not to mention the 24 hour shifts interns work while becoming a doctor. It’s ironic that we should find this in the medical community because it’s science that has measured the resulting loss of ability due to lack of sleep and working more than an 8 hour shift.

    The last time I was in a hospital, I became aware that the nurses were working 12 on — 12 off. When a young nurse with a sick child at home works that kind of shift schedule, I had to wonder how on her game she was. I paid extra attention to the meds I was given. The liklihood for errors increases with 12 hour schedules.

    • artist

      Well said Katie. Many, many factories run 24 / 7 as well. And regardless of how adjusted one might become to working overnight, the body never quite gets enough sleep on that shift. I don’t know why the FAA would allow only one person on duty at any time, let alone the graveyard shift.

  • whatever

    I sleep 5-6 a night and then on the weekend usually get one 8 hour night if my wife is being extremely nice and let’s me sleep in while our two year old gets up with her at 5:30.

  • XtianInEdina

    Last year we took my son, then only 6 months old, to a well known children’s ER (rhymes with “rabbit”). The intern(Dr) who first diagnosed us, was slurring her speech, weaving back and forth, and asked me to re-repeat everything she asked me. I honestly thought she was drunk until my wife – who works in healthcare – pointed out that is a common practice in hospitals to overwork their interns…in order to weed out the least committed. There is got to be a better way, especially when they are in charge of helping people who are very sick, and in many cases (like ours) need immediate emergency medical attention. I still can’t believe any hospital would risk the care of their patients for their own hiring purposes.
    I’ve had my own problems with this hospital in the past, but once I saw how they were with my son, I’m done with them .

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