Community Hospital sleep technician Kelly Evans, RPSGT, fits a patient with a home sleep unit in the hospital’s sleep lab. The home units can be used by patients in their own home environment to gather sleep data rather then staying the night at the hospital. Staff photo by John P. Cleary | The Herald Bulletin
Community Hospital sleep technician Kelly Evans, RPSGT, fits a patient with a home sleep unit in the hospital’s sleep lab. The home units can be used by patients in their own home environment to gather sleep data rather then staying the night at the hospital. Staff photo by John P. Cleary | The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON — It’s impossible for Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger to mandate that every officer under his command get at least seven hours of sleep each night. But he understands the importance of having well-rested deputies to patrol the area’s roads and neighborhoods and keep the public safe.

“Police officers are human too,” Mellinger said. “They have families; they have children who need to get places. You’re not sure how much sleep people are getting, and that’s not something you can dictate as management.”

The issue of inadequate sleep is particularly relevant to Mellinger and many of his counterparts in the law enforcement community. A recent Ball State University study found that nearly a third of working Americans are not getting enough sleep, a problem that is worsening each year. The study, authored by Ball State health science professor Jagdish Khubchandani, analyzed 150,000 working American adults from 2010 to 2018 and found that the prevalence of inadequate sleep — considered by the study to be seven hours or less per night — was highest among those in law enforcement and the military, with 50% of respondents found to be getting less than ideal amounts of sleep.

“We all know that sleep is a big problem in our society,” Khubchandani said. “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.”

Other professions with high levels of poor sleep include health care support (45%), transport and material moving (41%) and production occupations (41%). Although Khubchandani said there are no definitive causes for the downward trend in sleep duration, he cited a “progressive escalation in workplace stress” as a potential factor. In that way, he said, inadequate sleep crosses many vocational lines.

“You cannot expect your employees to be 100% functioning if they’re struggling with these issues of stress and sleep deprivation,” Khubchandani said. “These are things that employers should take care of and perhaps have training to focus on stress and health behaviors, or be prepared to pay more in health (insurance) costs.”

The issue is an often-discussed one at Anderson-based logistics corporation Carter Express, which employs nearly 300 full-time office and operations workers and about 450 drivers at its local terminal. The company operates under federal government regulations that mandate minimum 10-hour breaks if a driver has logged 11 hours. Also, any driver who works 70 hours in a given week must take at least 34 consecutive hours off immediately following the end of that week.

“We have quarterly meetings (with drivers), and in those meetings we address how to identify signs of fatigue,” said safety director Derek Underwood. “We coach drivers on their sleep patterns, and we make sure they understand that getting quality sleep is a must.”

Measures like those Carter Express takes to ensure the health and safety of its employees may vary depending on the industry, but Khubchandani believes they’re vital — especially in the service and medical fields.

“Employers have a major responsibility and should use health promotion strategies to ensure that workers who struggle with sleep problems are assisted,” he said. “It’s up to employers to decide if they want employees who are groggy on the job, or if they want to take some proactive steps.”

The Sheriff’s Department employs 50 officers at the Madison County Jail and also has 27 patrol deputies and nine detectives among its approximately 100 employees, Mellinger said. Several of them supplement their income by working part-time security jobs, and those who work overnight shifts often find it difficult to regulate their body clocks during time off.

“We’re a 24-7 operation,” Mellinger said. “Shift work itself can be difficult, and regardless of how you try to get a good night’s sleep, the rest of the world is awake. No matter how hard you try to protect yourself, life happens, and you sometimes get awakened. It’s never the same normal that everyone else enjoys.”
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