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The Dangers of Chronic Sleep Deprivation

We all have nights where we don’t get enough sleep. While the occasional bout of sleeplessness isn’t a big problem, there is often a heavy price to pay if you have chronic sleep deprivation.

Sleep experts agree most people need at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Chronic lack of sleep can significantly affect your life in many ways, including your job performance, road safety and overall health.

Sleep deprivation may be caused by unrecognized sleep disorders, such as chronic insomnia. Symptoms include having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Sleep-related breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea, also may be the culprit.

Automobile Accidents

Sleepiness and driving is a dangerous combination. Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving but don’t realize that drowsy driving can be just as fatal. Like alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment and increases your risk of crashing.

A sleepy driver often has an impaired reaction time, judgment and vision. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that each year drowsy driving is responsible for a minimum of 100,000 automobile accidents, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities.

There are other underlying causes of sleepiness, fatigue and drowsy driving which include the use of sedating medications and the consumption of alcohol when already tired. These factors have cumulative effects and a combination of any of these can greatly increase one’s risk for a fatigue-related crash.

Occupational Injuries

Studies show that sleep loss and poor-quality sleep lead to a twofold increase in the risk of accidents and injuries on the job. In one study, workers who complained about excessive daytime sleepiness had significantly more work accidents.

In fact, sleep deprivation is linked to some of the largest disasters in recent history. This includes the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, and the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernoybl.

Health Risks

Sleep deprivation is linked to several serious health problems. Those with chronic insomnia or other sleep disorders are at greater risk for high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. Chronic insomnia may also be an indicator of future heart problems.

Treatment

If you are excessively sleepy during the day even when you sleep well, or if you fall asleep without warning during daily activities, you may have a sleep disorder. The best thing to do is to see a doctor. A sleep specialist can design a program for you that will treat the underlying sleep disorder and help you develop better sleep habits.