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Respiratory/Sleep

Train Derailment Highlights Deadly Consequences of Poor Sleep

December 9, 2013

BRONX, NY – If the engineer at the controls of the ill-fated Metro-North train in the Bronx had worn a CPAP the night before, could the tragic derailment have been avoided? Inside the world of sleep medicine, the question rages in light of several media outlets reporting that the engineer may have fallen asleep.

DNAinfo reported that engineer William Rockefeller “all but admitted he was falling asleep” as he was commandeering the train. When he finally woke up, he was going 82 mph on a curve that demanded about 30 mph. The derailment killed four people and injured many others.

In the apparent absence of drug and alcohol impairment, lack of sleep lands squarely in the spotlight. An analysis from the Huffington Post concluded that train operators are actually one of the most likely groups to experience sleep-related job performance issues.

The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll of 800 transportation workers and 300 non-transportation workers, asking whether sleepiness affects job performance at least once a week. Train operators were the group most likely to admit this, at 26%, followed by pilots, at 23%. Meanwhile, just 17% of non-transportation workers reported that sleepiness affected job performance in the last week.

“For transportation workers, it’s a 24-hours-per-day industry, which means there are always going to be people working under shifts that are not conducive to getting adequate sleep,” Thomas J. Balkin, the chief of the department of behavioral biology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and chairman of the National Sleep Foundation, previously told HuffPost. “Unfortunately, the nature of the work makes it very dangerous to be sleepy.”