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How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Most adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep per day, ideally at night, to feel optimally alert and perform at their best, according to Daniel Cohen, MD, MMSc, formerly of Harvard.

Since railroaders may work at all hours of the day, often at different hours from day to day and both day and night, few have the luxury of getting all of their sleep in a single nighttime bout. It’s still important to figure out how much sleep you need every day to feel your best. That gives you a goal with which to start.

Sleep needs vary from person to person. Some people function well on amounts that leave others foggy. How many hours do you think you need to feel fully alert? Track your sleep for two weeks with a sleep-wake diary, or with sleep apps, to find out.

Do you, like many railroaders, get substantially different amounts of sleep at different times from day to day? How does the amount of sleep you get affect how sharp or drowsy you feel while awake? Do you feel better after sleeping eight hours than after sleeping six or seven hours? Keying into these things is the first step in figuring out how much sleep you need. If you cannot sleep as long as you prefer at one time, how do you make up for the hours you missed?

"When I look at the lineups and see that I'm anywhere from 4 to 6, maybe 8 hours out, sleep becomes priority one. I'll stop doing everything else at home. The rest of that goes on the back burner, because this is how we make our living. I take my sleep very seriously."
-Rob, locomotive engineer