Sleepiness at work: does alertness management training actually work?

Sleepiness at work: does alertness management training actually work?


The issue of sleepiness at work is a serious one in many professions. People feeling sleepy, or actually falling asleep at work, can have serious health and safety consequences, but also lowers productivity and can cause a range of other issues to do with a lack of focus, engagement and work absorption.

Sleepiness at work is a particular problem for shift workers, long-distance drivers, people engaged in monotonous work and employees who are exhausted. This is particularly an issue where alertness needs to be maintained for safety or productivity reasons.


This research briefing was one of 22 sent to members in July 2018



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Alertness management training

As a result of this issue, a number of organisations have developed alertness management training for their employees in order to reduce sleep and sleepiness incidents whilst at work. Previous studies have found that general classroom-based training interventions helping individuals identify when they are most at risk of sleepiness and showing them strategies for maintaining alertness have varying degrees of success.


Sleepiness at work and mobile apps

One interesting line of investigation has been looking at mobile phone apps that provide individually tailored biometric measurements of alertness and individually tailored help to reduce fatigue and increase alertness. These studies, on airline pilots, have found that such apps known as mHealthor mobile health can be effective.

A new study looking at alertness management training has tried to find out what elements of such training are effective and which are largely redundant.


Sleeping on the job


Cognitive learning doesn’t work

Previous work in 2011 found that cognitive learning during a training event is insufficient for the learning to be transferred into the workplace and into any specific situation.

The idea of learning transfer into the workplace is not new and has been identified as a serious problem since the 1960s, whereby classroom learning rarely makes much impact in the work situation. In fact, studies from 2002 and 2007 found that only half of most training investments result in any improvements at work and over 70% of training has absolutely no impact in the workplace a year after the training has taken place.

A new study

A new study looked at the effectiveness of alertness management training using 677 long-haul lorry drivers in Finland. The training comprised a 3 1/2 hour single training event and workshop, in which the workers were shown the theory of alertness management, including personalised help and advice on how to effectively counteract periods of sleepiness during their work.


This involved helping the drivers achieve optimal sleep patterns, as well as sleepiness countermeasures, such as taking short naps, using caffeine, physical activity and nutrition, as well as focus techniques, and helping them understand their sleep habits, as well as a range of other issues. The drivers were tested before the intervention and after it at various intervals up to a year after the training.





The researchers found that, during the shift immediately following the training, the drivers suffered less sleepiness, but, overall, there was no clear evidence that alertness management training had any effect on the alertness levels of the drivers. There are a range of possibilities as to why this is the case, including that the intervention itself was flawed or that only one ‘lesson’ is insufficient. Other explanations around the nature of truck drivers or the peculiar nature of long-distance lorry driving could also account for the fact that the training was not effective.


The issue here is that, in line with other previous studies, classroom learning has really poor transfer to the workplace. Therefore, relying on single classroom-based events in order to increase the alertness of employees has little evidence of success. However, as mentioned above, mobile phone (mHealth) apps and technology have been shown to be effective and may well be worth investigating for employees who are at risk of focus and alertness problems due to sleepiness.




Pylkkönen, M., Tolvanen, A., Hublin, C., Kaartinen, J., Karhula, K., Puttonen, S., … & Sallinen, M. (2018). Effects of alertness management training on sleepiness among long-haul truck drivers: a randomized controlled trial. Accident Analysis & Prevention.


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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page