Insomnia || Are you accident prone? The potentially deadly link between insomnia and accidents of all kinds

More research shows the less sleep you get, the less productive you are (and the less safe).

Drowsy driving has one main cause: fatigue. The fatigue can come as a result of insomnia or it can come as the result of sleep deprivation (opting to stay up too late, working night shift, all night studying).

Image from End Your Sleep Deprivation

People with insomnia are more likely to get into all kinds of accidents, according to numerous studies conducted over the last few years.

While this may seem obvious to some, people with insomnia do not often connect their sleep problems with daytime challenges to performance. What’s more, they often believe they can function above the risk factors for insomnia when, in fact, their decision making skills, timing, judgment and perception are all distorted by the sleep deprivation caused by insomnia.

In the 2014 study (dubbed EQUINOX), over 5000 sleep-disturbed patients across the span of 10 countries were administered questionnaires that assessed both the types of sleep issues they faced as well as their history of accidents (at work, at home, and in the car), with insomnia defined by the universally accepted classification of sleep disorders, the ICSD-10.

The results? Over 20 percent reported at least one home accident over the last year; over 10 percent had at least one accident while at work, and another 9 percent reported falling asleep behind the wheel, with more than 4 percent having at least one car accident related to sleepiness.

Ultimately, the patients who suffered most from insomnia had the highest accident rates independent of any sleep aid use and side effects, suggesting that less overall sleep, night after night, may be key to their higher risk for all kinds of accidents, whether on the road, at home or at work.

Drowsy Driving
In the United States alone, so-called “drowsy driving” occurs in as many as 60 percent of adult drivers, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll. That’s about 168 million people who admit that they’ve driven drowsy. Another 37% admit falling asleep at the wheel, with 13% of these drivers having done this more than once over the last month.

Drowsy driving has one main cause: fatigue. The fatigue can come as a result of insomnia or it can come as the result of sleep deprivation (opting to stay up too late, working night shift, all night studying).

Annually, 100 thousand motor vehicle crashes can be blamed on driver fatigue, according to conservative statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, resulting in 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. In a French study, insomniacs were also shown to have a much higher rate of serious major car accidents (at up to 3 times that of good sleepers).

Insomnia can also add numbers to the statistics on drunk driving, as those who are suffering chronic sleeplessness, who also drink before getting behind the wheel, are far more impaired than if they were only drunk.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident than those sleeping 8 hours or more; what’s worse, those who get less than 5 hours of sleep increase their risk by nearly 5 times.

The NSF estimates that more than 1 in 4 American adults in America drive drowsy to or from work at least a few days a month. How many of them are drowsy due to insomnia? Four percent of people populating your daily commute may actually drive drowsy almost every day. If you’re one of the millions who commute to or from work five days a week, consider the odds that you will either cause an accident due to your own issues with insomnia or that you will be a victim in such an accident.

Workplace accidents
But wait… what about people with insomnia who have accidents at work? That doesn’t just include forklift drivers and machine operators. It could include performance errors where money is handled or patients are treated. These kinds of workplace errors can easily be linked to insomnia. A study in 2012 estimates that insomnia could be the cause behind 274,000 workplace accidents and errors that cost American workplaces over $30 billion to repair. Also, in the aforementioned French study, it was shown that 44 percent of insomniacs remembered making errors at work which could have resulted or did result in serious consequences, versus 31 percent of good sleepers, and insomniacs were more likely to make multiple errors of this caliber at work compared to their well-slept cohorts.

Insomnia can cause all of the following impairments, which can be critical for people who need to perform at their maximum at home, on the road or at work:

  • Attention deficit
  • Decreased alertness
  • Failure to concentrate
  • Impaired reasoning skills
  • Poor problem solving skills
  • Inefficient learning
  • Impaired memory


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The bottom line? Insomniacs are prone to poor judgment and are especially lacking in their ability to assess how their insomnia is robbing them of critical skills for day to day functioning. In addition, there’s a machismo inherent in our culture which celebrates the idea that those who function on less sleep are somehow more powerful or higher functioning, but this is almost never the case.

Sleep expert Phil Gehrman, PhD., says it best here:

“Studies show that over time, people who are getting six hours of sleep, instead of seven or eight, begin to feel that they’ve adapted to that sleep deprivation — they’ve gotten used to it… But if you look at how they actually do on tests of mental alertness and performance, they continue to go downhill. So there’s a point in sleep deprivation when we lose touch with how impaired we are.”

If you suffer from insomnia, please consult your physician so you do not become yet another in the broad web of statistics linking sleeplessness to accidents.


The Direct and Indirect Costs of Untreated Insomnia in Adults in the United States.” Ozminkowski RJ, Wang S, Walsh JK. SLEEP. 2007;30(3):263-273.

Driving Performance Associated with Effect of Time Duration in Patients with Primary Insomnia.” Perrier J, Bertran F, Sullivan M, Couque C, Bulla J, Denise P, Bocca M-L. SLEEP. 2014 Mar;37(9):1565-1573A. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4012

National Sleep Foundation || Facts and Stats: Drowsy Driving

Insomnia and accidents: cross-sectional study (EQUINOX) on sleep-related home, work and car accidents in 5293 subjects with insomnia from 10 countries.” Léger D, Bayon V, Ohayon MM, Philip P, Ement P, Metlaine A, Chennaoui M, Faraut B. Journal of Sleep Research. 2014 Apr;23(2):143-52. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12104.

Professional correlates of insomnia.” [French Study.] Léger D; Massuel MA; Metlaine A et al. SLEEP. 2006;29(2): 171-178.

US News & World Report: Health || Study Links Insomnia to $31 Billion in U.S. Workplace Errors: Research was based on interviews with more than 10,000 people

WebMD || Ten Things to Hate About Sleep Loss

About Tamara Kaye Sellman (621 Articles)

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