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April 19, 2017
SOME OF THE PEOPLE that we depend on the most, like doctors, firefighters, pilots and air traffic controllers, have become a danger to both to themselves and us due to a lack of sleep.
It’s been well documented that sleep deprivation leads to a lack of alertness and impairment of cognitive abilities. Yet the very people that we rely for our safety – those who need to make split-second decisions and have instantaneous reactions – have jobs that typically require them to sleep less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
James Hamblin, a doctor and senior editor at The Atlantic, recently wrote How to Sleep, in which he recounted how sleep deprivation was a routine occurrence for him:
“During residency, I worked hospital shifts that could last 36 hours, without sleep, often without breaks of more than a few minutes. Even writing this now, it sounds to me like I’m bragging or laying claim to some fortitude of character. I can’t think of another type of self-injury that might be similarly lauded, except maybe binge drinking.
“Being a doctor is supposed to be about putting other people’s needs before your own. Our job was to power through.
“No matter what happened to my body, I never felt like it was dangerous for me to keep working…I didn’t think anything I did was unsafe. Sleep experts often liken sleep-deprived people to drunk drivers: They don’t get behind the wheel thinking they’re probably going to kill someone. But as with drunkenness, one of the first things we lose in sleep deprivation is self-awareness.”
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want a sleep-deprived doctor or a drunk making decisions about my health.
According to Rachel Nuwer, contributing science writer at Smithsonian.com, lack of sleep is more deadly for firefighters than fire. She referenced a New York Times report citing that the majority of firefighters are not killed by fire but by traffic accidents and heart attacks. And – here’s the kicker – researchers think lack of sleep may be behind that. Sleep-deprived firefighters were twice as likely to fall asleep while driving or get into a crash. And those firefighters who slept the worst were also the ones most likely to mess up on the job.
A lack of shut-eye has made the skies less friendlier, and more dangerous. In his article Air Traffic Controllers Suffer Scary Sleep Deprivation, John Johnson reports on a 2011 FAA study that found an alarming number of air traffic controllers don’t get enough sleep. It also noted that air traffic controllers’ work schedules often lead to chronic fatigue, making them less alert and endangering the safety of the national air traffic system.
Whether you are a mother, a president or a construction worker, someone depends on you every day. We all have responsibilities to our jobs, our families and our community – and we all need sleep to perform at our very best and remain safe.
Next week, in honor of National Sleep Awareness Week, stop trying to “power through” your life because you’re chronically tired. Instead, do yourself a favor – and the people who rely on you – by getting enough sleep to feel rested and rejuvenated.
Wake Up! Sleep Better.