By Annemieke De Wilde, MD, MPH, FACOEM Corporate Director Occupational Medicine
Oct. 6-10 is the National of Employees for Traffic Safety’s (NETS) Drive Safely Work Week. In recognition of this time focused on safe driving behaviors, a Monsanto employee discusses one of the greatest roadway risks – fatigue.
When the opportunity was presented to me to blog about fatigue and driving, I embraced this chance to share with you what I have learned over the years about fatigue. Fatigue as a result of sleep deprivation can kill or maim. It is that simple; or rather, that scary. So many of us think that sleeping is a waste of time because we would rather do more important things, like bringing in the harvest (and yes that is important) or watching a favorite TV show (and how important is that?). Let me make this clear: nothing is more important to you than your sleep! All mammals have to sleep for normal functioning. Not enough sleep can lead to weight gain and other chronic health conditions. But those aren’t my most compelling reasons to passionately ask you to get enough sleep. The most important reason is to protect yourself, your family and those you share the road with.
There is a significant chance that at some point, you have been in situations where you felt less than optimal due to a lack of sleep enough. Sleep deprivation can impair our reaction time, ability to recognize risk, and make fast and smart decisions. It is as bad as being under the influence of alcohol. But that is not the worst of it.
Did you know that if you do not sleep enough, your body can automatically shut down your cognitive functioning so you get rest? These are called “microbursts of sleep.” No coffee, cold air or loud music will help you resist the brain “shutting down.” When sleep deprived, we are most at risk during the early morning or mid-afternoon because our bodies typically feel more sleepy than awake. This is when most highway, railway or manufacturing accidents occur.
As we approach the end of 2014, sleep deprivation is a serious risk: farmers working long hours during harvest; students cramming for exams; families traveling for the holidays; or individuals working late to wrap up end-of the-year tasks. My hope is that people find more value in rest and get the sleep they need.
Sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. On average, teenagers need about 8.5-9.5 hours; and most adults need 7 to 9 hours a night for the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as 6 hours or as many as 10 hours. However, experts say that if you feel drowsy during the day, even during boring activities, you haven’t had enough sleep.
When you owe your body rest, you are creating a sleep debt. This debt needs to be paid or it could have deadly consequences. Do yourself and your family a favor: keep track of your sleep debt and catch up on the hours of zzzz’s you are behind. That way, you, your family, and those around you can enjoy one another in good health! Catching a nap is not “for the birds,” it is for our safety. Don’t let yourself or someone care about hit the road sleep-deprived.
For more information about fatigue while driving, visit the Monsanto Off-the-Job Safety YouTube Channel here.