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Sleep Deprivation

Last updated: September 3, 2019

What Does Sleep Deprivation Mean?

Sleep deprivation refers to a person suffering from a lack of sleep. Individuals may become sleep deprived due to insufficient sleep over a single night, or by missing small amounts of sleep over an extended period of time.

Workers who are sleep deprived face cognitive deficits which reduce their ability to perform job tasks safely and increase their risk of accidents during work-related travel. Individuals who perform work that requires long hours or irregular shifts are particularly vulnerable to becoming sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation can be difficult to remedy, as sleep deprived individuals lose the ability to detect how sleepy they are over time.

Safeopedia Explains Sleep Deprivation

Research shows that inadequate sleep affects workers’ ability to perform tasks safely. Workplace incidents are more likely to be caused by fatigue than by alcohol or drug impairment. Sleep deprivation impedes an individual’s ability to work safely by reducing their motor control, reaction time, situational awareness, visual perception, and decision-making ability. Individuals who are sleep deprived are more likely to use personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety equipment improperly, limiting the effectiveness of the equipment. They are also more likely to take unnecessary risks, and are susceptible to mood problems that make it more likely they will knowingly violate safety rules and procedures.

Sleep deprivation also negatively impacts worker health. Sleep deprived workers face higher rates of pain and functional limitations than non-sleep deprived workers. Sleep deprivation is associated with issues such as hypertension, obesity, and diabetes.

Workers in the United States and other countries may face self-imposed sleep deprivation due to the societal belief that sleep is not a priority, as well as a cultural admiration for individuals who are perceived to be able to work effectively with little sleep. Environmental and situational factors, such as work-related stress, can also interfere with an individual's ability to fall asleep.

OSHA has no regulations related to preventing sleep deprivation. However, some industry-specific agencies have mandatory or recommended work-hour limits to prevent worker fatigue. For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) limits the number of consecutive hours that flight crew can work.


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