Workers put themselves and others at risk every time they work under the influence of too little sleep. Researchers say a significant number of motor vehicle accidents and as many as one-third of all workplace accidents are caused by people who are sleep deprived; many as a result of sleep apnea, a condition that causes people to stop breathing for periods of ten seconds to two minutes continually through the night.
Workers who seem too tired to work are too tired to work. Sleep apnea robs people of the uninterrupted sleep needed to refresh the body and the brain and leaves them exhausted and foggy headed. Most with the condition wake up with a headache and experience excessive daytime sleepiness, memory lapses and difficulty concentrating and completing complex tasks. Many procrastinate, are impatient and irritable with coworkers, and have difficulty operating machinery and equipment. They may fall asleep at their desk, in the car or while operating machinery.
People with sleep apnea often have no idea they have the condition, despite having spent the night gasping for breath. They wake up long enough to resume breathing, but never long enough to remember having woken. Those who identify a problem and seek help are typically people with a spouse who complains about their loud snoring or notices periods when they don’t breathe.
Anyone can have sleep apnea, however there are factors that increase a person’s risk including being male, smoking, being overweight and over 40. Diagnosis involves a visit to your doctor and a sleep study to determine if you stop breathing at night and how often. Treatment options vary from surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids to the use of machine that delivers a constant stream of air through a mask attached to the patient’s face.
Sleep apnea is a serious, yet under recognized, condition that can leave a worker as impaired as one who is drunk. Recognizing symptoms of the condition in workers can help make the workplace a safer place for all.