Truckies and teen drivers need to be taught about the dangers of drowsiness to stop them nodding off at the wheel, important new sleep guidelines warn.
A policy statement led by an Australian researcher for the American Thoracic Society stresses the value of getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night and cautions about the dangers of getting much less or much more.
The document, backed by the Australasian Sleep Association and Sleep Health Foundation, also carries a list of fresh recommendations, including several highlighting the increasing number of sleep-related car crashes and importance of sleep education for drivers.
“In particular there is a very important message that truckies and those who operate heavy machinery need to be better taught about sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea and the medications that interfere with alertness,” says Australasian Sleep Association chairman Associate Professor Nick Antic.
“Adolescents are called out as another group that are particularly susceptible to drowsy driving. They should be taught about the risks as a standard part of their driving education,” he says.
Research shows one in every five car accidents is related to fatigue. This fatigue is usually caused by sleep deprivation or sleep disorders, many of which are going undiagnosed.
The statement also includes advice to doctors to consider psychotherapy ahead of sedatives for insomnia patients, and says consideration should be given to push back school start times to better suit teens’ body clocks.
Sleep Health Foundation Chairman Professor David Hillman says the guidelines help reinforce the importance of sleep as a pillar of good health alongside exercise and nutrition.
“Sleep is a vitally important to human health but too many Australians take it for granted,” Prof Hillman says.
“Part of the problem is that they don’t get clear guidelines around how much to get, how to do it well and how to protect themselves from the dangers of not getting enough.
“This statement is exciting because it gives us exactly that, key guidelines on everything from hours of shut-eye for children and adults through to the effect of work schedules and medications on sleep.”
The work, published this week in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, was led by Sutapa Mukherjee, an Australian respiratory and sleep physician and chairwoman of the American Thoracic Society’s Committee on Healthy Sleep.
Key recommendations include:
- Good quality sleep is critical for good health and overall quality of life.
- The amount of sleep needed by an individual varies significantly with age across the lifespan.
- Children are not merely smaller adults with regard to sleep and differ importantly from adults.
- Sleeping less than six hours a day is linked with adverse outcomes including mortality.
- Sleeping longer than 9-10 hours a day may also be associated with adverse health outcomes.
- The optimal sleep duration for adults for good health at a population level is 7-9 hours, although individual variability exists.
- Drowsy driving is an important cause of fatal and non-fatal motor vehicle crashes. All drivers should receive education about how to recognise the symptoms and consequences of drowsiness.
- Adolescents may be a particularly susceptible group to drowsy driving; therefore, sleep awareness training should be included during their driving education.
- Sleep disorders are common, cause significant morbidity and have substantial economic impact, but are treatable.
- Many individuals with sleep disorders remain undiagnosed and untreated.
- Better education of professional transportation operators regarding obstructive sleep apnoea, other sleep disorders and medications that may interfere with alertness, is needed.
- For adolescents, school start times should be delayed to align with physiological circadian propensity of this age group.
- Better education of physicians as to the effectiveness of cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia is needed rather than immediate implementation of hypnotics and sedatives, and structural changes are required to increase access to this treatment, including training of a wider range of health care providers and insurance coverage.