It’s important to get enough sleep for a variety of reasons, including your physical and mental health. People generally require seven to eight hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. That allows the mind to relax and the body to reset itself each day. It also helps people better control their blood sugar levels, and improves their mood.

woman lying on right side asleepOur busy lifestyles that can be challenging, with people rushing out the door in the early morning and returning home late at night. Work and other activities get in the way of a healthy night’s sleep. People are often living on four or five hours of sleep per night for prolong periods of time.

Often, however, a lack of sleep is part of a disorder and not a lifestyle choice. People toss and turn at night and can’t get a solid night’s sleep. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. It affects 6 to 10% of adults and can be characterized as being chronic or acute. Symptoms include fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating and mood disturbances.

Sleep Disorders and Accidents

There are also potentially life-threatening impacts from insomnia and a lack of sleep. It found that 9% fell asleep while driving and 4.1% of people who reported having episodes of insomnia were in a car accident over the last year. Car accidents were reported more frequently by men than women and usually occurred in people who were employed.

Besides accidents behind the wheel, accidents at home were reported. In the study, 20.9% of participants reported an accident at home, and 10.1% reported that an accident took place at work. The study was not clear on what type of accidents occurred, but they must have been dangerous enough for them to be reported by the participants.

Another study published in the journal Sleep involved 54,399 men and women between the ages 20-89 and collected over a 14-year period.  The study reported 57 fatal motor vehicle accidents and 277 fatal injuries among people who participated in the study.  They found that insomnia was a significant factor in the accidents, and reported that 34% of the accidents could have been prevented if the person had gotten enough sleep.

Sleep disorders have been linked to a number of generalized health and behavioural disorders, including reduced efficiency while operating a motor vehicle. In recent years, a number of studies have shown consistent linkages between lack of sleep, circadian rhythm disorders (CRSDs), and fatigue, on the one hand, and psychosocial problems, behavioural disorders, and motor vehicle accidents on the other.

driver texting at the wheel

Globally, thousands of accidents occur due to lack of sleep, tiredness, and fatigue. An awareness of this linkage has increasingly prompted public health concerns regarding the possible role of inadequate sleep in road accidents and fatalities. In 2004 and 2010, the UN General Assembly and World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed the costs of traffic accidents, and unanimously approved a policy statement urging that in the years 2011 to 2020 increased attention be given to the issue of road safety, with the aim of halting or reversing the trend of increasing accidents and deaths worldwide.

Here are some stats from a worldwide survey by WHO, which tallied the road traffic injury fatality rates (per 10.000 population) of major global regions:

  • South-East Asia region (16.6);
  • African region (32.2);
  • Eastern Mediterranean region (32.2);
  • The Americas (15.,8);
  • European region (13.4) and
  • Western Pacific region (15.6).
  • India and China have the highest traffic accident rates in the world: 105,725 and 89,455 people respectively, died in 2006,.

Sleep Disorders and Physical Capacity

Various studies indicate that sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, insomnia, periodic leg movement disorder, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and a number of other common diseases are all associated with excessive sleepiness, reduced driving skills and cognitive deficits. These in turn have been linked to an increased risk of accidents and fatalities on the highway. While drug treatment for insomnia is meant to improve sleep and in turn reducing daytime sleepiness, driving studies show that many sleep drugs may actually contribute to daytime sleepiness and the increased risk of accidents.

Even slicing vegetables can be a dangerous affair when we are sleep deprived – to say nothing of stressed parents with a baby who cries constantly.

How many accidents could be avoided, if we took time out for ourselves to rest?

It’s not a matter of being selfish – it can truly be a matter of life or death.