Sleep deprivation may make for funny sight gags on sitcoms (think baggy eyes, messy hair, zombie kitchen coffee marches), but in the real world, it’s no laughing matter. Just ask any of the three-dozen passengers aboard the Chicago Transit Authority subway train that crashed into an escalator at O’Hare International Airport last month.
The train’s operator had nodded off in the control booth, investigators from the National Transport Safety Board found last week. As a result, she lost control of the eight cars she was in charge of, causing the train to plow through a barrier and hop up a station platform before coming to a final stop atop the escalator. It took cleanup crews nearly four days to remove the train from the scene, and damage is estimated at $6 million.
The most troubling aspect of all this? It wasn’t the first time she had fallen asleep at the controls, investigators said.
As appalling as this story is, it’s not entirely uncommon. In fact, nearly 100,000 car accidents every year can be blamed on fatigue, if not outright exhaustion and nodding off. So why is America such a sleep-deprived nation? And if this CTA story is an indication of what could happen when our grogginess gets the best of us, what future disasters might lie in wait?
That all depends on your definition of “disasters.” Recent studies have pegged sleep deprivation as a major factor in early onset of Alzheimer’s and some have even found a link between not getting enough sleep and sustaining permanent brain damage due to killed-off cells. And if you’re an entrepreneur struggling to make your name in the tech market, you might have sleep loss to blame for your failures.
Of course, not everyone needs a full 40 winks (or eight hours, for that matter) of sleep every single night in order to function normally. But the more you cut into your sleep time, the more you’re putting yourself at risk — even if you aren’t operating a public transit train at high velocities. The only solution, it seems, to prevent these calamities is to get more sleep, something scientists have been telling us for years.
Now, we might actually have a reason to start listening to them.