Sleep deprivation is an exceedingly pressing issue that can have serious health implications when left unchecked. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, an alarming 18 per cent of Australian adults are sleeping less than six hours per night, while some 20 per cent suffer from chronically poor sleep.
With Australian Sleep Awareness Week taking place from July 6-12, now is the perfect time to alert New South Wales drivers to the dangers of getting behind the wheel while fatigued.
The theme of this year's campaign is 'Sleep better, Be better', with the Chair of the Sleep Health Foundation, Professor David Hillman urging people to take the matter of their sleep habits more seriously.
"Almost 10,000 serious workplace injuries and more than 25,000 serious road crash injuries are caused by poor alertness each year," says Professor Hillman. "The cost to the Australian economy is substantial - over $5 billion a year in lost productivity and healthcare costs, and over $31 billion a year in the loss of healthy life."
Sleep Awareness Week will target people leading busy lives such as workers and students, as well as those in 'safety-first roles' such as truck drivers.
A serious issue across Australia
The Sleep Health Foundation reported that of all serious road crashes, at least nine per cent are fatigue-related. This results in an estimated 25,920 each year.
The organisation adds that of those who regularly don't get enough sleep, half will go on to develop sleep disorders, while the others will form bad sleep habits. Those with sleep disorders have double the risk of both workplace and motoring accidents, says the Sleep Health Foundation.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans require different amounts of sleep throughout their life span; with teenagers aged 14-17 requiring 8-10 hours and adults from 18 years and up recommended to get at least 7-9 hours each night.
"If someone has been awake for 17 hours it is the same as driving with a blood alcohol reading of 0.05 per cent," said Professor Hillman. "When people are tired they are unable to judge speed and are at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel."
Drivers risking safety without sufficient sleep
While sleep deprivation is associated with a raft of negative health affects, it can also endanger other motorists. Transport for New South Wales recognises drowsy driving as one of the three main causes of fatalities on state roads, with fatigue-related crashes twice as likely to be fatal.
According to Allianz, driving while fatigued can impact your judgement as well as your performance, resulting in behaviours such as yawning, heavy eyelids and loss of concentration, as well as drifting out of your lane and unintentional acceleration or deceleration.
In addition, one of the prevalent risks of drowsy driving is known as the micro-sleep, where we actually lose consciousness at the wheel. While micro-sleep may only occur for a matter of seconds, it could mean the difference between responding to a hazard in time and a serious accident.
"Young people often don't feel tired when they take off in their car – certainly not 'fatigued'," explains Leon Lack, a professor of psychiatry at the Flinders University of South Australia.
"But this doesn't mean you are not at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. You have to be aware of how much sleep you have had and if it is enough to be driving safely, particularly on a long boring stretch of road," Professor Lack told Roads and Maritime Services' Geared.
Injuries from fatigue related motor vehicle accidents places additional cost on the CTP insurance scheme.