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Can I sleep after a car accident?

Excessive Sleepiness and Workplace Accidents

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

  • Sleep Deprivation and Workplace Accidents
  • What Other Issues Does Sleep Deprivation Cause?

If you feel that you are not getting enough sleep at night or are overly tired during the day, you are not alone. Medical experts recommend that adults should aim to get seven or more hours Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source of sleep per night. However, data shows that many Americans regularly get less than the necessary hours. Insufficient sleep is one major cause of excessive daytime sleepiness, which is thought to affect up to 25% of the U.S. population.

A lack of sleep impacts both physical and mental health. In the workplace, excessive sleepiness can greatly increase the likelihood of a workplace accident, which can result in injury and even death. Sleep deprivation also has a significant impact on other aspects of job performance, including productivity, task management, and meeting goals.

The Relationship Between Sleep Deprivation and Workplace Accidents

There is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that sleep deprivation leads to workplace accidents. Overly sleepy employees are 70% more likely Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source to be involved in workplace accidents than colleagues who are not sleep deprived. Long work hours paired with poor sleep quality can also contribute to a higher risk of workplace injury. Workers with insomnia are much more likely to have work-related accidents Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source than those who do not have sleep disorders.

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These workplace accidents can have serious consequences. In a Swedish study of over 50,000 workers, those who self-reported disturbed sleep were twice as likely to die in an accident related to the workplace.

How Does Lack of Sleep Increase the Risk of Workplace Accidents?

Sleep deprivation degrades cognitive processing Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source , affecting everything from memory to reflexes. With less sleep, your reaction time slows. This means you make decisions less quickly and accurately Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. View Source . You are also more likely to misjudge your own abilities and take unwise risks. As a result, excessive sleepiness can lead to consequential errors and accidents that gravely impact the workplace.

Industries Where Sleepiness Impacts Safety

In many industries, a lack of sleep is an enormous safety issue. Sleep deprivation in pilots, truck drivers, shift workers, and medical residents, for instance, leads to an increased risk of dangerous errors.

Sleep-deprived workers who drive as a part of their job are particularly in danger of drowsy driving, which can also have serious consequences. Drivers who get six hours of sleep or less are 33% more likely Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source to have an accident on the road, compared to those who get seven or eight hours of sleep. Driving while sleep deprived has the same or worse impact as driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05% Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source . For comparison, the federal legal BAC while driving in the United States is 0.08% Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. View Source , and some states have lower limits.

Health care workers are also at risk of drowsiness impacting their work, especially because they tend to work long shifts or work overnight. A study of 100 nurses revealed that cognitive performance was significantly impaired in night shift workers Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source demonstrating, for instance, that nurses working the night shift made 32% more mathematical errors than nurses working the day shift. This was attributed to poor sleep quality and decreased alertness.

Stories of Workplace Accidents Caused by Sleepiness

Several infamous workplace accidents were directly and indirectly caused by excessive sleepiness or sleep deprivation.

  • Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant: In 1979, the worst commercial nuclear plant incident in the history of the United States occurred at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant in Pennsylvania. The incident occurred when shift workers Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source working between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m failed to recognize a serious change that nearly resulted in the meltdown of the nuclear reactor later that day.
  • Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant: The 1986 catastrophe at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant began at 1:23 a.m. because of human error. It was later found that the operators responsible were working on too little sleep.
  • Other nuclear plants: Other nuclear plants have histories of failures caused in part by sleepiness. In 2002, the Davis-Besse Reactor near Oak Harbor, Ohio went into shutdown at 1:35 a.m., and in 1978, the Rancho Seco nuclear reactor near Sacramento, California lost power to the control system at 4:14 a.m.
  • Exxon Valdez oil spill: Excessive work hours and sleep deprivation were major contributing factors to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, which led to the 1989 oil spill in Prince William Sound.
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Space Shuttle Challenger explosion: Because of a lack of sleep and sleep-deprived shiftwork, poor judgments were made when launching the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986. According to reports, crucial managers had been working since 1 a.m. the day of the explosion, and they slept less than two hours the previous night.

Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving kills — but is preventable. Learn about three factors commonly associated with drowsy-driving crashes and pick up some helpful tips to avoid falling asleep at the wheel. In this section, you’ll also find several resources and learn what NHTSA is doing to help eliminate this risky behavior.

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Drowsy Driving Fact
Deaths from drowsy-driving-related crashes in 2020
Drowsy Driving The Issue NHTSA In Action Resources
Drowsy Driving

  • The Issue
    • Scope of the Problem
    • Crash Factors
    • Tips to Drive Alert

    The Issue

    Scope of the Problem

    Attitudes About Drowsy Driving Need to Change

    Traffic Safety Facts Drowsy Driving

    Fatigue has costly effects on the safety, health, and quality of life of the American public. Whether fatigue is caused by sleep restriction due to a new baby waking every couple of hours, a late or long shift at work, hanging out late with friends, or a long and monotonous drive for the holidays – the negative outcomes can be the same. These include impaired cognition and performance, motor vehicle crashes, workplace accidents, and health consequences.

    Tackling these issues can be difficult when our lifestyle does not align with avoiding drowsy driving. In a 24/7 society, with an emphasis on work, longer commutes, and exponential advancement of technology, many people do not get the sleep they need. Effectively dealing with the drowsy-driving problem requires fundamental changes to societal norms and especially attitudes about drowsy driving.

    The terms drowsy, sleepy, and fatigue are used interchangeably although there are differences in the way these terms are used and understood.

    Driving if You Suffer from Sleep Apnea
    Watch the video

    Precise Numbers of Drowsy-Driving Crashes, Injuries, and Fatalities Are Hard to Nail Down

    Unfortunately, determining a precise number of drowsy-driving crashes, injuries, and fatalities is not yet possible. Crash investigators can look for clues that drowsiness contributed to a crash, but these clues are not always identifiable or conclusive.

    NHTSA’s census of fatal crashes and estimate of traffic-related crashes and injuries rely on police and hospital reports to determine the incidence of drowsy-driving crashes. NHTSA estimates that in 2017, 91,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers. These crashes led to an estimated 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths. But there is broad agreement across the traffic safety, sleep science, and public health communities that this is an underestimate of the impact of drowsy driving.

    The Issue

    Crashes and Fatalities

    Sleepiness can result in crashes any time of the day or night, but three factors are most commonly associated with drowsy-driving crashes.

    Drowsy-driving crashes:

    1. Occur most frequently between midnight and 6 a.m., or in the late afternoon. At both times of the day, people experience dips in their circadian rhythm—the human body’s internal clock that regulates sleep;
    2. Often involve only a single driver (and no passengers) running off the road at a high rate of speed with no evidence of braking; and
    3. Frequently occur on rural roads and highways.

    The Issue

    Tips to Drive Alert

    How To Avoid Driving Drowsy

    Related Topics

    1. Getting adequate sleep on a daily basis is the only true way to protect yourself against the risks of driving when you’re drowsy. Experts urge consumers to make it a priority to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. For more information on healthy sleep, see In Brief: Your Guide to Healthy Sleep (PDF, 1.81 MB) at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website.
    2. Before the start of a long family car trip, get a good night’s sleep, or you could put your entire family and others at risk.
    3. Many teens do not get enough sleep at a stage in life when their biological need for sleep increases, which makes them vulnerable to the risk of drowsy-driving crashes, especially on longer trips. Advise your teens to delay driving until they’re well-rested.
    4. Avoid drinking any alcohol before driving. Consumption of alcohol interacts with sleepiness to increase drowsiness and impairment.
    5. Always check your prescription and over-the-counter medication labels to see if drowsiness could result from their use.
    6. If you take medications that could cause drowsiness as a side effect, use public transportation when possible.
    7. If you drive, avoid driving during the peak sleepiness periods (midnight – 6 a.m. and late afternoon). If you must drive during the peak sleepiness periods, stay vigilant for signs of drowsiness, such as crossing over roadway lines or hitting a rumble strip, especially if you’re driving alone.


    1. Drinking coffee or energy drinks alone is not always enough. They might help you feel more alert, but the effects last only a short time, and you might not be as alert as you think you are. If you drink coffee and are seriously sleep-deprived, you still may have “micro sleeps” or brief losses of consciousness that can last for four or five seconds. This means that at 55 miles per hour, you’ve traveled more than 100 yards down the road while asleep. That’s plenty of time to cause a crash.
    2. If you start to get sleepy while you’re driving, drink one to two cups of coffee and pull over for a short 20-minute nap in a safe place, such as a lighted, designated rest stop. This has been shown to increase alertness in scientific studies, but only for short time periods.

    NHTSA In Action

    NHTSA is dedicated to eliminating risky behaviors on our nation’s roads

    NHTSA demonstrates its commitment to eliminating drowsy driving on our nation’s roads by working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to expand our understanding of drowsy driving so we can reduce related deaths and injuries and help people avoid becoming a drowsy-driving statistic.

    Other efforts include:

    • In 2016, NHTSA released a strategic plan, Drowsy Driving and Research Program Plan (PDF, 613 KB), addressing six broad focus areas: Measurement and Problem Identification, Public Awareness and Education, Policy Development, High-Risk Populations, Vehicle Technology, and Infrastructure.
    • In 2015, NHTSA convened the forum Asleep at the Wheel: A Nation of Drowsy Drivers (PDF, 1.66 MB) during the National Sleep Foundation’s National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week. This meeting included more than 100 participants from many diverse organizations, setting the stage for a national coordinated effort by bringing together motor vehicle and highway safety experts with sleep/circadian science experts and the sleep medicine community.


    More on Drowsy Driving

    Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)

    • Dangers of Drowsy Driving
    • Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (January 4, 2013) Drowsy Driving – 19 States and the District of Columbia 2009-2010
    • Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (July 4, 2014) Drowsy Driving and Risk Behaviors

    Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

    • Caution: Some Over-the-Counter Medicines May Affect Your Driving
    • Driving When Using Medicine

    Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

    • Rumble Strips: A Wake-Up Call for Drowsy Drivers
    • State DOT Report: Utah Department of Transportation Research & Development Division, A Safety Analysis of Fatigue and Drowsy Driving in the State of Utah

    Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)

    • Drowsy Driving Quiz: Are you at risk for falling asleep behind the wheel?
    • CMV Driving Tips

    National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center on Sleep Disorders Research and Office of Prevention, Education, and Control

    • Educating Youth About Sleep and Drowsy Driving (PDF, 981 KB)

    National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

    • Quick Sleep Tips for Truck Drivers (PDF, 1.9 MB)

    National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

    • 2014 Forum: Awake, Alert, Alive: Overcoming the Dangers of Drowsy Driving

    Drowsy Driving Prevention Week

    • Each November, the National Sleep Foundation conducts Drowsy Driving Prevention Week in an effort to reduce the number of drowsy-driving crashes.

    I’ve been having trouble sleeping after a car accident. What can I do?

    A good night’s sleep is important for our overall health and wellness. When we have trouble sleeping or develop a serious condition like insomnia, we can experience significant physical and psychological stress.

    Many car accident victims report trouble sleeping after a car accident. While sleep difficulties may not seem very dangerous, they could be a sign of a more serious condition. In these situations, it is important to speak with a doctor as soon as possible following your collision.

    What Causes Insomnia After a Car Accident?

    Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that occurs when you are unable to fall asleep, regardless of how tired you feel. Without treatment, this condition can affect your job performance, mental health, and physical well-being. Insomnia after a car accident is more common than most people realize and is often indicative of a more serious condition.

    Insomnia and Traumatic Brain Injuries

    After a car accident, insomnia could be a sign that you sustained an injury to your brain. During a collision, your head can shake violently and jolt back and forth in an unnatural way. In some cases, objects collide with your head or penetrate the skull. As a result, the brain can begin bleeding, bruising, and swelling—resulting in permanent damage.

    Insomnia is a common symptom of a head injury. Without prompt medical attention, brain damage can be fatal. If you notice insomnia after your accident along with any of the following symptoms, visit an emergency room immediately.

    • Headaches
    • Fatigue
    • Dizziness
    • Memory impairment
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Sensitivity to light and sound
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Changes in mood
    • Loss of consciousness

    Insomnia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    Not all car accident injuries are physical in nature. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common after a collision. This mental health disorder occurs when people experience a traumatic event, such as a car accident, and begin experiencing symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, and aggression.

    Insomnia is common among people with PTSD. In fact, an estimated nine out of every 10 patients will experience sleep problems. If you believe that your insomnia is connected to PTSD, speak to a mental health professional as soon as possible.

    What to Do After a Car Accident in Missouri

    Under Missouri law, victims of car accidents may be eligible for compensation through a personal injury lawsuit or insurance claim. If you are injured and experiencing difficulty sleeping due to your accident, you could hold the at-fault driver liable for your damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

    To secure compensation in your case, however, you will need to prove that the at-fault driver caused your accident and resulting injuries. Protect yourself and your future claim by taking the following steps after the accident to preserve evidence and seek help.

    • Call 911 and report the accident to the police. Collect the officer’s information so you can find the report at a later time.
    • Seek medical attention immediately, even if you do not feel injured. Some symptoms may not appear after the accident, but without treatment, you could develop severe complications. Save all records related to your treatment.
    • If you are able, take photographs of the accident scene, collect all pieces of physical evidence, and ask witnesses in the area for their contact information. Briefly exchange license, insurance, and contact details with the other driver.

    Have You or a Loved One Been Injured in a Kansas City, Missouri Car Accident?

    If you’ve been hurt in a Kansas City area car accident you should speak with an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible. Please feel free to contact us online or call our office directly at 816.832.4688 to schedule your free consultation. We are proud to serve Kansas City, Missouri and the surrounding area and look forward to speaking with you.

    Spencer Eisenmenger

    Helping Kansas City area medical malpractice, product liability, birth injury and personal injury clients.

    Get Help Now

    Located conveniently near Crown Center and Union Station, Fowler Pickert Eisenmenger Norfleet serves clients throughout Kansas City, as well as Independence, Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs, Overland Park, and beyond. Complete our online contact form or call us at (816) 832-4688 to discuss your next steps.

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