How Sleep-deprivation Is A Silent Killer

By / July 8, 2016 / Background Stories



Several studies have proven that good sleep is essential for the proper brain function. Even moderate sleep deprivation impairs the cognitive and motor brain performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Police and authorities are always focusing on alcohol, but the effects of fatigued driving are similar to drunk driving:

  • Impaired coordination
  • Longer reaction times
  • Impaired judgement
  • Impaired ability to remain information

It definitely causes people to make more errors and one of the most dangerous aspects is that people often misjudge their own state of mind and ability. Most people are not aware of how sleepiness affects their performance, even without falling asleep.

Unfortunately there’s no breathalyzer for fatigue.

Drowsy Drivers

About 20% of all traffic accidents are due to fatigue and experts are convinced that those high numbers are even an underestimation. One survey found that two out of every five drivers (41%) admitted to having fallen asleep at the wheel at some point. People who fall asleep are often aware, but drivers may not be aware of short lapses in wakefulness and microsleeps, which can have lethal consequences when a fast reaction is needed to avoid high-speed crashes.

Commercial drivers are especially susceptible to drowsy driving and the American National Transportation Safety Board reports that sleepiness was likely the cause of more than half of the lethal truck crashes.

A study dating from 1994 estimated the cost of traffic accidents attributed to drowsiness to be between $29.2 to $37.9 billion.

Sleepy Workers

Sleepiness is also important in other industrial settings, such as piloting aircraft, operating heavy machinery, or even surgery.  A recent Belgian study showed that generalists make mistakes more often in their last five diagnoses of the day than in their first five diagnoses.

So as a patient you’re often better off in the morning than in the evening.

Large studies have shown a relationship between fatigue and work related accidents. Highly sleepy employees are 70% more likely to be involved in accidents and researchers estimate that more than 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, so we’re taking a lot of risk every day.

Did you know that the nuclear plant disaster at Chernobyl is linked to human error due to sleepiness? And the Space Shuttle Challenger accident?


There is no substitute for sleep and people should ensure they are well rested to prevent accidents. Awareness of the signs of drowsiness might be helpful, but only if people attend to those signs and get enough sleep or, if that is not possible, take a short, 20-minute powernap. Caffeine will improve alertness only for a short period and should not be relied upon. is a Health IT company focusing on 24/7 health monitoring and predictive algorithms.
Our first solution, ALMA Live,  continuously monitors people’s heart rate by means of wireless sensors and assesses their alertness in real time on a scale from 1 to 10. If their vigilance decreases beneath a certain threshold, an alert will strongly advice them to take a rest. This will happen 10 to 15 minutes before they show external signals of drowsiness, so they will be able to safely end their activity.


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Kris Sienaert

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