How much impact does sleep deprivation make on a person’s mind and body? A little drowsiness at the office…a millisecond of mental shut-down as you drive down the highway? The facts glaringly bear out the dangers of losing sleep. Some of the worst industrial disasters recorded in history — the Chernoby Nuclear Disaster and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill — all happened because someone who was supposed to be wide awake and alert allegedly fell asleep on the job.
In 1986, a flawed nuclear reactor design led to a stem explosion and fire that released at least five percent of the radioactive reactor core. The radioactive fumes flowed into the atmosphere and left a total of 54 fatalities, almost 20 years after the incident. The radioactivity caused people to get sick and die painfully slow from the effects of exposure to the nuclear fumes. While officially, the records show that it was a mechanical failure that caused the steam explosion, many attribute the tragedy to poor training, lack of safety measures, and the poor concetration of a sleepy worker at the nuclear plant.
Three years after Chernobyl, another major disaster occurred that has again put the lack of sleep as center of the blame. In 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef and spilled approximately 11 million gallons of oil into the sea. At the time of the accident, the captain of the ship was in his stateroom — leaving a ship officer and a seaman on the control. According to reports, the two men on the bridge were apparently tired and sleepy and, thus, momentarily lost their concentration while maneuvering the tanker. Exxon,the company that owned the tanker, spent around $3 Billion to finance the oil clean-up operations and to settle damages incurred by fishing companies that operated in the site of the accident.
Sleep deprivation also causes other relatively smaller scale incidents, like a car accident, which is, by no means, less tragic. Sleeping while behind the wheel is the culprit for the 13 percent rise in highway road accidents in the United States. According to studies made on road accidents, one in thirteen drivers regularly felt drowsy while driving a car on a busy highway. It does not take much to be in a road mishap. Even if a driver closes his eyes for a millisecond, that is enough for him to unintentionally swerve the vehicle to the opposite lane and cause a head-on collission. Based on records by the World Health Organization, at least 1.2 million people die each year on the road due to a car accident.
So, how can we prevent accidents due to sleep deprivation? The answer is as simple as this: people should get enough sleep. Studies show that the amount of sleep needed by an individual is influenced by genetics. While some people feel fine with just five hours of sleep a night, most doctors and health experts prescribe at least eight hours of sleep. While the number of hours of sleep time somehow decreases with age, it is clear that lack of sleep makes a person lose concentration which could have disastrous consequences.
People who are under extreme stress or those who suffer from insomnia need additional help in getting sleep. For many years, millions of people have turned to the sleeping pill to find quick relief from sleeping disorders like insomnia. Over the counter sleeping pills are among the most bought pharmaceutical products today, especially in highly industrialized Western countries. These sedatives help a person experience relaxation which eventually leads to sleep. Still, users of the drug are strongly cautioned about the side effects of sleeping pill use which include slurred speech, slow reflexes, and poor judgment.
Accidents happen unexpectedly, without any warning. Perhaps, there is close to nothing that we can do to totally prevent minor mishaps and large-scale tragedies from happening. Still, ensuring that we get enough sleep may be a good start. Failing to get enough rest at night not only disrupts our body processes and reduces our mental capabilities, it can even lead to the fatal incidents that could possibly lead to the sleep of death.