Lazy man against gray background.
Close up of a tired guy.

The Real Cost of a Sleepless Night

You know when the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) states that sleep disorders have become a national health epidemic that the issue is probably pretty serious. For those of you who are part of this ‘epidemic,’ you know the toll that countless sleepless nights can take on you, both physically and mentally. But that is only part of the real cost of sleepdisorders according to several new studies. The issue has become so widespread that employers are now able to put an actual dollar amount on the negative effects caused by their exhausted employees. And overall, it’s in the millions!

Sleep Disorders And Nuclear Meltdowns

While many people can have a few nights of interrupted sleep here and there and cope just fine, it’s those of us who suffer with the curse of chronic insomnia and other sleep-related disorders that truly understand how seriously lack of sleep does affect us.
Did you know that sleep deprivation was actually a factor in the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island? What if I were to tell you that the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl was also related to lack of sleep? How about the horrific Exxon Valdez oil spill that killed close to 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, close to 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council? Yup, you guessed it. Lack of sleep coupled with an excessive workload was stated as the cause behind why the third mate failed to properly maneuver the huge vessel. While there were other factors involved, it is actually sad that just a little sleep could have possibly prevented this unfathomable disaster.

Lack of sleep is also the cause of close to 100,000 car accidents in the US every year. And surprisingly it’s people under the age of 25 who are more likely to cause these accidents. Studies have proven that drowsiness behind the wheel can slow your reaction time as much as if you were drinking. The difference is that the majority of people who know they are drunk don’t get behind the wheel. We don’t hesitate in most cases if we are tired, which is pretty scary when you think of the consequences.

Drowsy Drivers Road Sign

How Sleep Disorder Affects Your Memory

Lack of sleep also affects your ability to pay attention. It can also severely affect your ability to stay alert and concentrate. Reasoning and problem-solving abilities decline significantly with lack of sleep. For students, this can make learning more difficult, especially since many of the different sleep cycles we are supposed to undergo, help us to “consolidate” memories, meaning if you don’t get enough sleep, you will have a very hard time remembering what you learned or experienced during the day.

In 2009, researchers showed that specific brain events called “sharp wave ripples” are responsible for this memory consolidation. These ripples also transfer any information we may have learned from the hippocampus to the neocortex of the brain, where long-term memories are stored. Sharp wave ripples occur mostly during the deepest levels of sleep… sleep that insomniacs and others who suffer from various sleep disorders rarely get.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Helen Lampman
Writer and fellow insomniac.
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