When you get little to no sleep, your body feels drunk – seriously USA Today reports that lack of sleep leaves you feeling the equivalent of a .1% blood alcohol content.
Sleep deprivation makes it hard to concentrate, remember things, and increases risk of accidents. For instance, drowsy driving caused 72,000 crashes and 800 deaths in the United States from 2009 to 2013, according to a report. In Australia, one in four accidents that involve one car is due to the driver falling asleep, reports Sleep Health Foundation. Car crashes caused by drowsy drivers costs Australians an estimated $2 billion every year.
Lack of sleep impacts how you perform at your job, your ability to operate a motor vehicle, and your relationships. Here are a few examples of how poor sleep or little sleep can not only harm yourself, but also the people around you.
Pilot fatigue is a physiological state of reduced mental or physical performance capability resulting from sleep loss, extended wakefulness, or workload. More than 56 per cent of pilots admitted to dozing off while operating a plane, according to a 2013 survey by British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA). An example of this happened in 2018 when a pilot in Australia missed the landing because he fell asleep at the controls. He overflew the aircraft by 46 kilometres before waking up and turning around for a safe arrival in Tasmania.
Sleep Health Foundation found that operating a motor vehicle when you’re tired can make your driving worse than if you have been drinking alcohol. Specifically, if you drive after 17 hours without sleep, your performance is as bad as driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 per cent. Gary Hart veered his car off the road and onto a railway after falling asleep at the wheel, reports the BBC. His drowsy driving caused a 125 mph London express train and a 1,800-tonne freight train to collide, killing ten people and injuring more than 80 others. Hart claims he fell asleep at the wheel after staying up all night chatting on the phone to a woman he met on the internet.
In what seems like an almost freak accident, a Chicago Transit Authority train jumped the tracks and hurtled up an escalator, reports the BBC. The train operator admitted that she dozed off during her shift and that it wasn’t the first time it happened. Luckily, there were only a few injuries. The crash resulted in millions of dollars in repairs to Chicago O’Hare International Airport train station. There’s a debate about whether the operator’s hefty work schedule is to blame, although she did have 18 hours off work before her shift.
A man in the UK drove a large goods vehicle toward oncoming traffic for about a mile before being jolted awake after hitting the crash barrier. His dashboard camera shows people desperately weaving around him to avoid a collision. Later, it was reported that the driver was diagnosed with sleep apnoea, which is the most common cause of frequent drowsy driving, according to this study. People with sleep apnoea (aside from other health problems) are more likely to have accidents because of chronic daytime sleepiness associated with the syndrome.
In 2013, a passenger train in New York derailed after speeding 82 mph around a sharp curve. The accident killed four people and injured at least 63 others, according to an NBC report. The train engineer admitted to zoning out; he came out of the daze when it was too late. The National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) later found that the engineer suffered from undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnoea. According to NBC, the accident prompted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to add an automatic safety braking system on the stretch of tracks where the accident happened.
How to recognise when you’re sleep-deprived
Before you get behind the wheel — whether it be a train, plane, or car — assess how you feel physically and mentally. It’s common to experience excessive sleepiness, yawning, mood swings, or daytime fatigue when you’re sleep-deprived. It leaves your mind exhausted, making it difficult to perform everyday duties, especially operating a vehicle.
Drowsiness slows your reaction time and affects decision-making abilities. If you find yourself missing exits, drifting from your lane, or forgetting how far you’ve driven — pull over and take a power nap or switch drivers. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that commercial drivers, shift workers, or those with sleep disorders are at higher risk for driving while drowsy. And, of course, this includes drivers who experience insufficient sleep.
Prevent drowsy driving by:
- Getting enough sleep — that means seven to eight hours of sleep each night!
- Sticking to a sleep schedule. Routines create healthy habits! Try to get to bed at the same time each night to create a sleep pattern that works for you.
- Find out if you have sleep apnoea. This syndrome makes it difficult to sleep throughout the night, therefore causing chronic daytime drowsiness. Once diagnosed, there are options for treatment.
- Recognise why you’re so tired in the first place and make the necessary lifestyle changes to improve sleep.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress for a full night of uninterrupted sleep. The Ecosa mattress has zero partner disturbance so that you won’t feel each other shifting around throughout the night. It’s also designed to help you relax into a deep, restorative sleep.