Sleeping On The Job Just Won’t Fly

Larry Price
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Wednesday - March 12, 2008
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There was a lot of “water cooler” discussion last week about a survey released by the National Sleep Foundation. It seems the results of survey of 1,000 people found participants average six hours and 40 minutes of sleep a night on weeknights, even though the people estimated they need about 45 minutes more to be at their best.

About one-third said they had fallen asleep or had become sleepy at work in the past month. The report’s selected results found the reason is that workdays are getting longer. People claimed they were trying to squeeze in more family time, too. Additional findings estimated the average wake-up time is 5:35 a.m., and most people go to bed at 10:54 p.m.

The report wasn’t on the street for more than a month when everyone had a story about sleep deprivation. Example: The chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledged it should have done more to investigate information that security officers routinely took naps while on the job at a Pennsylvania nuclear plant.


When you think about workers’ sleeping habits, it’s a scary thought. I don’t remember anyone on a job interview ever asking me what my sleeping habits were, or anyone teaching me to sleep correctly when I was growing up.

There is obviously a lot more to proper sleep habits than buying the correct mattress. People are so tired that they claim their traffic accidents are caused by falling asleep at the wheel.

And what about the recent story of two pilots who allegedly fell asleep while flying an airplane full of paying customers to the Big Island?! We don’t yet have all the facts, but it’s obvious that no one would have known something was wrong if the airplane hadn’t missed the Big Island by 15 minutes! As some of the details emerged, one interesting thing was made public. Airlines have rules on how much time a pilot must have off between flights - it’s something like eight hours of rest between takeoffs. It seems pretty reasonable since the pilots have a care-and-custody responsibility to the passengers. Unscheduled stops can have dramatic consequences on everyone involved.

I find it interesting that people who guard nuclear facilities and pilot airplanes are singled out for extra supervision where sleeping habits are concerned, yet no one seems to care about people who make a living taking care of the general public. Then I remembered what at the time made our Legislature the butt of many jokes all over the nation - proposed legislation to authorizing public employees the right to take naps on the job. It asked that not only would they be authorized to take naps on the job, but be furnished with snacks during the work day.

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Rod Tam during the tenure of Gov. Ben Cayetano, who was hoping to rethink and support civil service in 2000. Cayetano hoped for quick thinking on the idea of civil reform. To his utter amazement, the first bill to surface was the now famous “Nap and Snack” bill. The proposal pointed out that civil service rules allow workers to take two 10-minute “recesses” every day. The idea was that a worker use the nap to relax, refresh and rejuvenate without leaving the workplace.


Back in 2000, the idea of management being concerned about an employee’s sleep habits was kind of revolutionary. In most cases, management is not concerned about what you do at home while on your Serta, how much television you watch or what time you go to bed. What they want is eight hours’ work for eight hours’ pay. I don’t think civil service employees can ever expect to get paid for sleeping on the job.

There are those who will naturally disagree on the basis that most workers fall asleep at work because they didn’t get enough sleep the night before. And while that may be a fact, don’t expect management to supervise your sleep habits after you leave the office or plant. They may want you to exercise, stop smoking and eat healthy, but that’s because it lowers the cost of medical insurance and reduces workers’ compensation claims.

Said another way, how much you sleep every night is very personal, so there’s no sense complaining out loud. It probably won’t get any sympathy from your employer.

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