Lack of sleep a public health epidemic

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10:33 PM September 13th, 2013

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By: Charles E. Buban, September 13th, 2013 10:33 PM

Last Monday at 2 a.m., this writer hailed a taxi along Edsa near the corner of Shaw Boulevard. What was supposed to be a 20-minute ride to the Inquirer office in Makati City turned into an agonizing 40 minutes. The reason? My cab driver dozed off, thrice, along the stoplights of Edsa and Buendia Avenues, at the corner of Jupiter and Reposo Streets, and at the corner of Vito Cruz Extension and Chino Roces Avenue.

I had to rouse him every time he did, and throughout the trip, we ran at a snail’s pace.

Still, I considered ourselves lucky. He could have dozed straight to a fatal accident.

* * *

In a recent study conducted by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers found that short sleep duration and snoring were each independently associated with a greater likelihood of drowsy driving.

Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.

In fact, according to the CDC, not sleeping for 18 hours and getting behind the wheel afterward is comparable to one driving while having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of about 0.05 percent, almost the legal limit in most places in the United States. If one remained awake for 24 hours and decided to drive, that person is no different from one driving with a BAC of 0.10 percent, higher than the legal limit imposed in most places in the United States.

Nodding off even for a fraction of a second behind the wheel, of course, has deadly consequences. So drivers resort to turning on the radio full blast, or rolling down the windows in the hope of fighting off sleep. But these measures are largely ineffective. Drinking coffee or something else with caffeine can help, but the effects vary by individual.

While it’s difficult to tack a number onto just how many traffic accidents occur as a result of drowsy driving (there are about 90,000 road accidents in the Philippines every year), in the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that more than 6,000 people are killed every year in vehicle accidents blamed on an exhausted driver. The figure is second only to fatal accidents due to drunk-driving and ahead of those attributed to driver distractions like texting.

Threat to health, life

Indeed, sleep problems constitute a global epidemic that threatens health and quality of life for up to 45 percent of the world’s population, according to the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM) .

The WASM informed that sleep deprivation has been associated with decline in mental health, and people with insomnia are more likely to suffer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Moreover, it has also been linked to obesity, diabetes and weakened immune systems.

In the Philippines, sleepiness and driving are a dangerous combination. “Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving but don’t realize that drowsy driving can be just as fatal. Like alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment and increases one’s risk of crashing,” pointed out Daisy Jacobo, chief of the Land Transportation Office-Traffic Safety Division.

Even a brief moment of nodding off can be extremely dangerous, considering that when speeding at 100 kph, falling asleep for just one second will mean that you travel about 30 meters with no control—more than enough distance to fall off a ditch, hit a tree, an oncoming vehicle or worse, a pedestrian.

So, the next time you find yourself yawning a lot, blinking frequently, or drifting from your lane, don’t tough it out. Pull over somewhere safe and take a nap even if it means arriving late in your destination. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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