Your Health

Sleep and safety on the job

June 25, 2018 — Tamara Castellano

Sleep, or the lack thereof, is one of the most overlooked medical conditions.  Ask nearly anyone you know and it’s unlikely they’d tell you they get plenty of sleep.  But how much sleep do you need?  And what are the consequences of not getting enough sleep? We’ve got everything you need to know about why getting enough sleep is crucial for your health and job safety.

Catastrophic consequences

Lack of sleep can have catastrophic consequences.  And you don’t have to look any further than these four major disasters for proof.

1. Three Mile Island meltdown

Sleep disasters

In the early morning hours of March 29, 1979, sleep-deprived workers did not notice that the plant had lost coolant.  By the time they realized what had happened, the nuclear reactor’s core had melted down.  Although no lives were lost, the clean-up took 12 years and cost nearly $1 billion and it is widely considered one of the worst nuclear accidents in U.S. history.

2. Challenger Space Shuttle explosion

The Challenger Space Shuttle exploded shortly after launching in January 1986, killing all seven crew members.  Several managers who worked on the launch had only slept for two hours before reporting to work that day.  In the final report, the commission said lack of sleep “raises serious questions when it jeopardizes job performance, particularly when critical management decisions are at stake.”

3. The Exxon Valdez oil spill

After the crew put in a 22-hour shift loading oil, the third mate was allegedly asleep at the helm and was unable to turn the tanker around before it ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in March 1989.  More than 10 million gallons of crude oil was spilled and eventually covered 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean.  The oil killed an estimated 140 bald eagles, 302 seals, 2800 sea otters and 250,000 birds.  In addition, 26,000 tourism-related jobs were lost.

4. Chernobyl

The explosion in the Ukraine at Chernobyl is considered to be the worst nuclear disaster in the world.  While design flaws contributed to the meltdown, engineers had been working 13-plus hours and failed to coordinate system safety tests.  30 workers died within weeks, with more than 300,000 residents ordered to evacuate the surrounding area, indefinitely. Hundreds of people have been diagnosed with radiation-related cancers in the years that followed. 

Psychological impact

Lack of sleep can have a major impact on your mood.  Fatigue can cause irritability, frustration, anxiety and increased stress.  In extreme cases, sleeplessness can cause paranoia, short-term memory loss and hallucinations. 

Physical effects

According to a study published by Carnegie Mellon University, you are three times more likely to get a cold if you average less than seven hours of sleep.  You are also more likely to suffer from heart palpitations and heart burn.  There are also serious consequences of long-term sleep deprivation, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. 

How much sleep is enough?

The amount of sleep you need varies depending on age, but according to the Sleep Foundation, the following is a guideline:

  • Young adults (18-25) need 7-9 hours of sleep
  • Adults (26-64) also need 7-9 hours of sleep
  • Older adults (65+) need 7-8 hours of sleep

Sleep Tips

Here are some things you can try to help promote a good nights sleep.

  • Keep a sleep schedule.  Going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on weekends, helps regulate your body clock.
  • Avoid Naps.  Naps are great, but if you have trouble sleeping at night, napping will make falling asleep at bedtime more difficult.
  • Create a sleep-friendly room.  Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool.  Eliminate any bright lights or noise that can keep you up.  Consider using a sleep mask or a noise machine with “white” noise to help you fall asleep.
  • Exercise.  Exercise is good for a lot of things, but it can also help you sleep better.  Try experimenting with different times of the day that promote a good nights sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol.  While you may think a glass of wine before bed helps you fall asleep, it won’t help you stay asleep.  In fact, you’ll probably find yourself getting up in the middle of the night, frustrated and not able to go back to sleep.
  • Create a relaxing ritual.  Come up with a ritual to do before getting into bed.  It can be as simple as meditation or unplugging an hour before bedtime.  Anything that gets you to relax and start to feel sleepy works.

And finally…

We leave you with a video that shows what would happen if you didn’t sleep.

Topics: Your Health

Written by

Tamara Castellano

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