Consequences of Insomnia

The prevalence of insomnia has been reported to be as high as 30% in the general population; however, fewer than 20% of people suffering from this sleep disorder ever discuss it with their doctors. There is a prevailing misconception that insomnia isn’t really a medical condition and that it will simply “go away on its own.” Meanwhile, those suffering from lack of sleep are at extremely high risk of serious consequences in their personal lives, at work and particularly on the roads.

In the United States, conservative estimates of the total annual direct and indirect costs of sleep related difficulties was calculated at $92 to $107 billion (Wake Up America, 1993). Direct costs include prescription and non-prescription medications, physician visits, physician training and knowledge, psychologists, hospitalization, and medical insurance. Indirect costs include loss of productivity due to missed work, decreased work performance, and accidents related to the side effects of drug treatment (Stoller, 1994).

WHAT DEFINES INSOMNIA?

Chronic insomnia can be defined in terms of the following symptoms:

a) subjective complaints of poor sleep,

b) difficulties in initiating (sleep onset latency is greater than 30 minutes) and/or maintaining sleep (sleep efficiency, time asleep divided by time in bed is lower than 85%),

c) sleep difficulties are present three or more nights per week,

d) duration of the problem is greater than 6 months,

e) subjective reporting of daytime fatigue, performance impairment or mood disturbances, and

f) an impairment in social or occupational functioning.

WHAT ARE THE PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF POOR SLEEP?

Sleep deprivation impairs a person’s ability to function mentally. Common consequences include reduction in attention, memory, reaction time, problem solving and cognitive skills.

ARE THESE CONSEQUENCES SERIOUS?

Some of the most catastrophic disasters in our history can be attributed to human error caused by sleep deprivation and fatigue, including:

  • The Space Shuttle
  • Challenger Explosion
  • Exxon Valdez grounding
  • Three Mile Island
  • Chernobyl nuclear power plants’ near meltdown

WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION IN THE WORKPLACE?

Sleep deprivation has a significant impact on productivity and workplace safety. Studies indicated that 53% of workplace accidents are caused by excessive daytime fatigue and that people suffering from insomnia have a 1.5 times greater chance of being involved in a workplace accident than the general population.

HOW DOES SLEEP DEPRIVATION AFFECT DRIVERS?

It is believed that sleep deprivation has the same detrimental effect on a person’s ability to drive safely as drinking alcohol and that a person suffering lack of sleep is three times more likely to be involved in an accident than someone who is properly rested. A Canadian survey in 2005 indicated that one in five drivers admitted to having fallen asleep while driving. Data from the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that an estimated 100,000 car accidents per year are caused by driver fatigue, resulting in 1,500 deaths and 71,000 injuries. Studies also state that 20% of serious car accidents and 57% of fatal accidents are associated with driver sleepiness.

SHOULD PEOPLE WITH SLEEP DISORDERS TAKE SLEEPING PILLS?

Many people are under the misconception that sleeping pills or other organic “cures” are the only treatment for sleep disorders.  In fact, taking this route is often just masking the problem and some sleep-aids can become addictive. People who suffer from lack of sleep should discuss the problem with their doctor and request an assessment of the possible treatments.

Appropriate assessment and therapeutic interventions such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) have proven to be successful in the treatment of chronic insomnia. CBT (either individually or in groups) is a psychotherapeutic approach that treats the behavioural and cognitive disruptions associated with insomnia.

 

Article originally published in ONBOARD, Fall 2011