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  • Writer's pictureSarah Morris Ocampo

Are there legal requirements for sleep?

By Kyle Martin 

The parallels between driving under the influence and driving while sleep deprived cannot be overlooked. Why is that? The question can be answered by comparing the significant overlap of the physiological and psychological effects between the two, which include cognitive impairment, memory lapses, and increased reaction times. Therefore, we asked ourselves, are there any legal requirements for sleep? Here’s what we found:

A review of scientific literature was done in 2015 by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), along with a multi-disciplinary expert panel, which provided a basis for  recommended sleep guidelines. The guidelines are based on age categories and appear to have an inverse relationship with the amount of sleep required. A few categories include: younger adults (18-25) and adults (26-64), both of which require 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Older adults (65+) require 7 to 8 hours of sleep.

In the United States Army, soldiers can often be pushed to the brink of exhaustion, both mentally and physically, by being sleep deprived. The Combat and Operational Stress Control Manual for Leaders and Soldiers recommends that a soldier obtains 7 to 8 hours of sleep every 24 hours. If that is not possible, it is important to have a couple of days for rest to maintain a healthy mental status. These are not strict regulations, but rather recommendations only.

Pilots have a tremendous responsibility with operating an aircraft and ensuring the safety of its passengers. In order for a pilot to be fit for duty, the Federal Aviation Administration requires a 10-hour rest period prior to their flight duty period, which can usually range from 9 to 14 hours. More importantly, 8 of those hours must be time for uninterrupted sleep.

Transitioning from the air to the road, truck drivers are also not immune to the effects of sleep deprivation. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued federal regulations to reduce sleep fatigue, which included taking a 30-minute break after the first 8 hours on shift and driving a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off of duty. It’s interesting to note that there is no regulation on how much sleep is required, but only how long a truck driver can work at a time.

Another common area in which sleep deprivation is quite prevalent includes that of resident physicians. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) has created guidelines for medical residents to follow. They recommend that resident work hours are limited to 80 hours per week averaged over 4 weeks. Similar to pilots, resident physicians also require a 10-hour rest period between duty periods and after in-house call. As residents progress through their respective programs, they can work up to 24-hour shifts, with up to 6 additional hours for continuity of care.

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