We already know that insomnia is associated with a number of health risks, including osteoporosis, cancer, and depression.
What many people don’t know is that sleep deprivation is also associated with an increase in accidents that can lead to injury and even death.
Insomnia has long been known to impair driving; a survey cited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) found that nine out of ten police officers reported stopping a driver they believed was drunk only to find the driver was actually drowsy.
The AASM also estimates that 20 percent of all serious road injuries are related to sleep.
Insomnia doesn't simply increase your risk of being involved in a car accident. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to a higher risk of accidents at home and in the workplace.
French researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey across 10 countries. It involved 5,293 individuals with sleep disturbances including:
Researchers found that, over the previous year, as a result of their sleepiness:
21 percent reported having had at least one accident in the home
10 percent reported having had at least one workplace accident
Seven percent reported having had at least one car accident
Worryingly, accidents tended not to be isolated. Over the previous year, in those who reported an accident:
61 percent had more than one car accident
69 percent had more than one home accident
57 percent had more than one work accident
Why does sleep deprivation increase the risk of an accident?
We already know that the hypnotic medications insomnia sufferers are more likely to be prescribed can increase the risk of accidents.
However, those involved in this study had not taken any sleeping pills in the previous four weeks.
Furthermore, information was only included from participants who had not received any medical treatment for insomnia in the previous six months. Therefore, it appears that not getting enough quality sleep is a risk factor in itself.
This makes sense. Genuine insomnia sufferers know that chronic sleep deprivation can lead to severe daytime impairment. This impairment (or feeling of grogginess) can affect judgement and hand-eye co-ordination, increasing the risk of an accident.
The inevitable build-up of sleep pressure when sleep deprived over a long period of time can also increase the risk of falling asleep at the wheel, or when in control of other forms of machinery.
How can I reduce the risk of an accident?
The answer is simple: take steps to improve your sleep. If you don't feel as though you are getting enough quality sleep, speak with your doctor. Remember that many sleeping pills come with side-effects that may also increase your chance of an accident. However, there are alternatives.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) has been found to be particularly effective as a long-term insomnia treatment.
In the meantime, make sure you don't drive when tired, be sure to take breaks when driving or operating machinery, and avoid alcohol and driving or operating machinery at night.
Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free insomnia sleep training_ course. His online course uses __CBT-i _techniques to teach participants how to fall asleep and stay asleep. More than 4,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 97 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.