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New Research Links Sleep-Centric Disorders with Car Crashes

Author: Travis Decaminada

Distracted drivers are not the only danger on the road; a new study indicates that people coping with three different sleep-related ailments — insomnia, sleep apnea, and shift-work disorder — may also have an increased risk of being involved in an automobile accident. Specifically, these conditions can significantly increase a person's likelihood of being in a collision.

Notably, although the study finds that insomnia and sleep apnea increase a person's likelihood of being in an accident, it also finds that shift-work disorder is by far and away the most dangerous of the three, nearly tripling a person's chances of being in an accident. Moreover, the problem is allegedly getting worse.  

Per the study's authors, the traditional workday has changed dramatically over the past several decades, which has led many consumers to demand businesses operate with extended hours. Expectedly, this has resulted in more people working non-traditional hours and thus purportedly suffering from shift-work disorder.

Shift-Work Disorder

According to The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project (NHSAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shift-work disorder is "…insomnia and/or excessive sleepiness that occurs when a recurring work schedule overlaps with the usual sleep episode" (NHSAP information here). Simply put, long-term changes to a person's sleep schedule as a result of working odd hours lead to that person being tired at inappropriate times, e.g., at work or while driving.

People suffering from shift-work disorder may also be more likely to experience many other diseases or disorders, including cardiovascular disease, psychiatric illnesses, diabetes, and even cancer.

Shift-work disorder may also pose a serious danger in the workplace as sufferers are more likely to be involved in a workplace accident. Beyond accidents, workers are also allegedly more likely to make simple errors or mistakes. This may incentivize some businesses to ensure that their employees are maintaining proper sleep hygiene.

Drowsy Driving

Beyond shift-work disorder, drowsy driving is a serious problem in America. According to the CDC, drowsy driving is responsible for upwards of 83,000 crashes annually and possibly as many as 6,000 fatal accidents a year.

Possible Roadside Interventions

The authors involved in the sleep-disorder report claim that these findings highlight just how serious the need for roadside intervention is, suggesting that "counter-measures" should be put in place to mitigate the problem. Increased access to rest areas along highways, better safety messaging (including in vehicles), and alternate modes of transportation could help improve road safety relative to shift-work disorder, according to the report. 

First published: December 3, 2021

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