Lack of Sleep Can Prove Dangerous

As life’s demands pile up, more than ever we are meeting those demands by skimping on sleep. Ironically, loss of sleep decreases our productivity and increases the probability of accidents—both high-profile accidents and those that occur in our daily lives.

Large-Scale Disasters

Sleep deprivation has been cited as a significant factor in virtually every major human disaster in the past few decades, including the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island and the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl. Investigators of both the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in Alaska and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger cited extreme sleep deprivation as affecting those making critical decisions leading up to these accidents.

Transportation Incidents

Sleepiness has also played a role in many of the nation’s incidents involving our transportation systems. Investigations of commuter rail, bus service, long-haul trucking and maritime travel accidents are replete with evidence implicating insufficient sleep and fatigue as contributing factors. Pilot fatigue has been cited as a major contributor in several plane crashes and runway safety incidents.

Besides these higher profile safety incidents, we see the effects of sleepiness in our daily lives. Drowsy driving accidents occur hourly. Data analyzed by Harvard University based on high-quality naturalistic and epidemiologic studies suggest that drowsy driving is responsible for 20 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in the United States. In other words, drowsy drivers are to blame for approximately one million crashes, 500,000 injuries and 8,000 deaths each year. Extrapolated data from a recent national survey revealed that one-third of drivers (103 million people) have reported actually falling asleep at the wheel in a year.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation at Work

The Institute for Medicine estimates that over one million injuries and between 50,000 and 100,000 deaths each year result from preventable medical errors, many the result of insufficient sleep. A 2004 study at Harvard Medical School found that hospitals could reduce the number of medical errors by as much as 36 percent by limiting doctors’ work shifts to 16 hours and work week to no more than 80 hours. Yes, many doctors work much more than this! In other occupations, studies have shown that shift and night workers with severely challenged sleep schedules are many times more likely to have a fatigue-related accident than those with normal work, wake and sleep cycles.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation at Home

When people are sleep deprived, their reaction times and speed of thought are dulled. Accidents can even happen at home. A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine reports that elderly women who sleep poorly have an elevated risk of suffering falls.

The list goes on. It’s quite apparent that sleepiness takes a heavy toll on our safety and well-being, often causing accidents that result in serious injury, or even costing lives. Sleep well, and be safe.

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