Many people assume that drunk driving and texting are two of the most dangerous activities that cause accidents. However, fewer realize that lack of a good night’s rest can just as easily lead to disaster. In October 2004, a California Med Flight Air Ambulance Bombardier Learjet 35A plane crashed into high ground, killing all five people on board. While there were other contributing factors, the main one cited was the pilot’s fatigue, not having had sufficient rest before the accident. Sleep-deprivation, the condition of not having enough sleep, can be a catalyst for accidents and possible deaths just as easily as drunk driving or texting.
Oftentimes people brush off the thought of being seriously or chronically sleep-deprived, referring to their fatigue as simply “one bad night’s rest.” In spite of that, the majority of symptoms are ones the general public no doubt experiences on some level nearly every day. Signs of sleep-deprivation include: making impulsive decisions, weight gain, feeling hungrier than usual, inability to concentrate, and (surprisingly) falling asleep immediately after getting in bed. While this may seem contrary to fact, if someone routinely falls asleep within five minutes, it could be a sign of serious sleep-deprivation or even a sleep disorder (Klein).
Sleep disorders, like insomnia and sleep apnea, are also a contributing factor to sleep-deprivation. Insomnia, or having trouble sleeping, can be caused by anxiety or may be a childhood problem that never went away. Sleep apnea is when the upper airway collapses while asleep, cutting off the passageway to the lungs. Both can greatly increase stress if not properly resolved.
If a survey were taken on a college campus asking what the main reason is for not getting enough sleep, most students would undoubtedly say school. Consequently, it’s hardly a shock to learn that over 70% of surveyed college students get less than eight hours of sleep a night, and over a quarter are at risk for a sleep disorder (Hershner and Chervin 73-84). It has also been proven in tests that students who go to school later in the morning are apt to stay focused and receive better rest than those who go to school earlier (Carpenter).
So what are the costs of becoming sleep-deprived? One highly researched consequence is the brain. A sleep-deprived brain has to work twice as hard to perform simple mental tasks versus a well-rested one. Scientists demonstrated this by studying how the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls working memory and practical reasoning, had higher activity rates in sleepier test subjects. Additionally, the obvious fact of decreased functioning ability and alertness while suffering a loss of sleep points to decay of brain operations in and of itself. Something as small as remembering the past conversation can become incredibly difficult.
Another possibly life-threatening effect of sleep-deprivation is how one’s driving ability suffers. Anyone who has taken Driver’s Education will recall the fierceness of the “don’t drink and drive” or “don’t text and drive” messages that instructors pounded into the heads of bored 15-16 year olds. What is less discussed is the grim statistics showing fatigue to be a more lethal distraction while driving than either drunkenness or texting. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) says that one in five of serious motor injuries is due to driver fatigue, with the number of sleep-deprived crashes ranging from 100,00-250,000 annually. Usually, people don’t realize how tired they are while driving or “shrug it off,” turning on the air conditioner or radio to compensate, yet braving it out isn’t worth their lives. According to the AASM, you should pull over and nap for 15-20 minutes before continuing to drive, for the safety of everyone involved.
Have you ever been talking, driving, or just standing somewhere and suddenly didn’t remember the past 30 seconds? Depending on circumstances, this may very well have been a microsleep. Microsleeps occur when someone is moderately to severely sleep-deprived and loses consciousness temporarily before quickly regaining it. These tiny blackouts can last from fractions of a second to half a minute, and (even more frightening) often happen with the eyes open. The brain is neither asleep nor awake, but oscillating between the two.
Microsleeps are, in fact, quite common among the general public, though people who struggle with insomnia or Excessive Daytime Sleepiness are naturally more prone to them. Staring into the distance while listening to a chatty friend talk, oblivious to most sensory input and then suddenly “snapping” back to reality is an example of this phenomenon. Although most microsleeps are the result of sleep-deprivation, doing any sort of monotonous task can trigger one. These more common types of microsleeps are referred to as Daytime Parahypnagogia (DPH) sessions. Indeed, microsleeps are relatively harmless unless they happen when driving, operating machinery or doing other tasks requiring alertness.
How, then, does one treat sleep-deprivation or counter its effects? A popular alternative in today’s society is caffeine. Whether it’s chugging a Red Bull, sipping on tea or throwing back several espressos, America can hardly get enough of the stimulant. Nonetheless, caffeine is in reality most effective when not taken routinely (“Sleep Deprivation”). Sorry, morning coffee people; caffeine is also best when short periods of wakefulness are needed. The other obvious and only sure way to ward off sleep-deprivation is simply increasing nightly sleep time. Clearly, such a relevant problem could be solved if our culture only amplified the amount of hours it sleeps.
While fatigue regulations continue to be put in place so as to avoid another tragic accident like that of the Med Learjet in California, human nature is as weak as our night-owl tendencies are strong. If we take such precautions against drunk driving and texting, shouldn’t a similar stand be created for sleep-deprivation? Sleep is a vital part of life, just as the lack of it can affect all aspects of our world, even contributing to death. Truly, one can very well be “dead tired.”
“Brain Activity Is Visibly Altered Following Sleep Deprivation.” Nature (2002): n. pag. 10 Feb. 2002. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
Carpenter, Siri. “Sleep Deprivation May Be Undermining Teen Health.”Moniter on Psychology 32.9 (2001): 42. Apa.org. American Psychological Association, Oct. 2001. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
Hershner, Shelley D., and Ronald D. Chervin. “Causes and Consequences of Sleepiness Among College Students.” Nature and Science of Sleep 6 (n.d.): 73-84. Ncbi.gov. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
Klein, Sarah. “10 Surprising Signs You’re Sleep-Deprived.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
“Sleep Deprivation.” American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2011): n. pag. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.