One in three Americans say they don't get the sleep they need. It would be comical, see, if it wasn't causing so much harm. For example, a study funded by the U.S. National Commission on Sleep Disorders found that in 1988, sleepiness- related accidents — including auto, train and aircraft crashes — killed 24,000 people and disabled 2,474,430 more. The total cost of sleep-related mishaps that year: $56.02 billion and 204,650,000 days of productive work lost. More recently, scientists estimated that fatigue contributed to 10 to 20 percent of all accidents in all modes of transportation. (So much for sacrificing sleep as a shortcut to success.)
Disastrous Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation has also played a sinister role in some of the most terrible disasters in recent history, including Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, the wreck of the Exxon Valdez and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
In the case of the Challenger, for example, the investigating committee blamed not only the famous faulty O-rings, but also the severe sleep deprivation of the NASA managers involved, who according to the commission were too muddle-headed from lack of sleep to properly understand important O-ring data supplied to them during a telephone conference with manufacturer Morton Thiokol. (Two of the three managers involved had had only three hours sleep apiece for three consecutive nights before making the fateful decision to launch.) Meanwhile, our highways are crowded with glassy-eyed truckers struggling to make deliveries on time, and our skies are full of pilots on killing shifts who are flying long past the point of mental exhaustion.
Sleep as Patriotic Duty
There's no dodging the fact that all this groggy-eyed mayhem grows out of our deep lack of respect for the power and importance of slumber. Edison was wrong: It's folly to cheat the sandman. It's dangerous. And, considering the damage it does to our national well-being, it may be unpatriotic.
Well there's a thought — maybe it's your patriotic duty to get a good night's sleep! And maybe we can help. In fact, I think I'll just devote my next dispatches to some basic, nuts-and-bolts advice that should help you sleep more soundly. We'll show you how to buy the right mattresses for you and your family; we'll discuss how light levels can dramatically affect your sleep; we'll talk about noise levels and what you can do to make your bedroom quieter, and we'll show how the wrong temperature can adversely affect your slumber.
The collective professional term for these issues is sleep hygiene. And no, we're not talking about how often you launder your pj's. We're talking patriotism through dozing, remember? But hey, this is America, and crisp, clean pjs never hurt.