First of all, attention is absolutely needed when you are driving. So, if you haven’t had a good night rest, you are lacking the full attention needed to drive. As a result, driving on congested streets or highways becomes hazardous.
In fact, studies have shown that sleep deprivation affects reaction times of college student athletes as well as West Point cadets. And, besides making you tired and sleepy, sleep deprivation reduces cognitive resources needed for attention performance.
Most of all, slow reaction times not only cause many car accidents but are also responsible for some of the biggest disasters in history. For example, disasters, such as the Exxon Valdez Oil spill, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and the Challenger were all attributed to sleep deficiencies.
In fact, studies have shown that staying awake continuously for just 17 to 19 hours impacts attention performance more than a person with a blood-alcohol level of .05 percent (the level considered legally drunk in most western European countries). And, this level of impairment slows an individual’s reaction time by about 50 percent when compared with someone who is well rested.
Furthermore, twenty-four hours of continuous wakefulness induces impairments in attention performance equivalent to someone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent. And this blood-alcohol level is beyond the legal limit for alcohol intoxication in the United States. Also like alcohol, sleep deprivation affects judgment, making it harder to determine how impaired you are when you are tired.
Incidentally, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey, 33% of all adult drivers say they have fallen asleep at the wheels. In fact, the Institute of Medicine estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for 20% of all motor vehicle crashes. That means drowsy driving causes 1 million crashes, 500,000 injuries, and 8,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
Incidentally, driving isn’t the only activity affected by insufficient sleep. Medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers endure long sleepless hours. Regrettably, this impacts the quality of care patients get. In fact, each year, medical errors are responsible for nearly 98,000 deaths in the U.S.
Most of all, poor sleep has a profound effect on judgment. Above all, the prefrontal cortex, an area near the front of the brain responsible for logical reasoning and complex thoughts, is particularly vulnerable to sleep deprivation. For this reason, people have such a hard time recognizing their own fatigue and level of impairment. Therefore, like the drunk driver who thinks he or she is just fine to drive, the tired driver is not always the best judge of his or her ability of drive safely.
Regrettably, poor sleep affects your body in many other ways (see infographic).