Sleep is becoming an increasingly rare commodity and as zzz's dwindle at night, your energy and ability to concentrate diminishes by day. But here's the eye-opening news: Sleep deprivation can also impair your reaction time as much as alcohol does.
According to a new study from the prestigious Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Center, subjects with a mild or moderate level of sleep disorder performed worse in a 10-minute test of reaction speed than people whose blood alcohol level was above .08, the legal limit in many states. In other words, they're just as dangerous behind the wheel as a drunk driver.
The study focused on subjects with sleep apnea, a disorder affecting as many as 25 million Americans, in which the airway collapses during sleep, obstructing breathing. Compared to the average person whose breathing briefly stops five times per hour during sleep, a person with moderate apnea will stop breathing 29 times per hour. However, "the results [regarding reaction times] are translatable to those with other sleep disorders," says study leader Nelson Powell, Ph.D.— "even people who sleep for 12 hours and wake up tired" or the occasional insomniac.
"Many people don't realize they are tired and fatigued. They don't have a frame of reference anymore and that is the real danger," says Dr. Powell. Besides risking a car wreck, the sleep-deprived are also risking their cardiovascular health. "Patients with sleep apnea are often overweight because they don't have enough energy to exercise." Gastric upset, headaches, irritability and memory and libido loss are all common side effects, too. If the above symptoms sound a little too familiar, consider this a wake-up call. See a doctor to find out how you can improve the quality of your sleep—and your life.