Sleep Deprivation and Accidents
- May 13
- Evans & Herlihy
- Vehicle Accidents
There’s a reason Starbucks is so successful: Many people rely on coffee to get through the day, because they aren’t getting enough sleep. But while caffeine may increase alertness for a short time, it’s no substitute for a good night’s sleep.
Without adequate sleep, people may become clumsy, forgetful, irritable, and they may have impaired reaction time and concentration. People who go to work tired often make careless mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes can have serious consequences.
In 2004, about 60 miles north of Dallas, a tired truck driver fell asleep at the wheel, and his rig crossed a median and struck two vehicles, killing 10 people. Sleep deprivation was also cited as a factor in the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, in Middletown, Penn. And insomnia is the cause of 274,000 workplace accidents and mistakes every year.
In some professions, workers don’t always follow the laws dictating the maximum number of hours they can work or the minimum number of rest hours required between shifts. In hospitals, interns and residents are restricted to working a certain number of hours, but they sometimes work beyond those limits and falsify their time records. Truck drivers also are limited to the number of hours they can work, and their time records are subject to audit by the Federal Motor Carrier Association. Even so, truckers and their employers are sometimes cited for fudging time logs.
Laws that mandate maximum hours and rest periods are intended to keep people from working in an overly tired condition that could cause an accident or injury. So when companies and workers flout those laws, they’re gambling with their own safety, the safety of others, and their financial future.
Lack of Awareness
People who think they can accomplish more in a day if they sleep fewer hours don’t realize that they are actually less effective at work when they aren’t well rested. They may also fail to think about how sleep deprivation affects their ability to drive. When a brain needs sleep, it may periodically go into a brief resting state with no warning. That’s what’s known as microsleep, a complete or partial loss of consciousness, lasting a few seconds.
When people experience microsleep, they may report having “zoned out,” or they may be unable to recall what happened in the previous few seconds. Parts of the brain can remain active during microsleep, which is why people can be performing a task yet not be aware of it. Sitting at a desk, that minor lapse of awareness may have little impact. But when driving a truck, performing surgery on a patient, or working with heavy machinery, zoning out can be deadly.
So how much sleep do people really need? According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 18 and 64 should be getting seven to nine hours of shut-eye every night, and definitely no fewer than six hours.
Getting a good night’s sleep just makes sense – a well-rested population could result in fewer careless accidents.