An NPR report examines the issue of sleep deprivation in the workplace and the consequences of lack of sleep.

William David Brown, a sleep psychologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top, says Americans are sacrificing more and more sleep every year. Fatigue is cumulative, he says, and missing the equivalent of one night’s sleep is like having a blood alcohol concentration of about 0.1 — above the legal limit to drive.

“About a third of your employees in any big company are coming to work with an equivalent impairment level of being intoxicated,” Brown says.

He says lack of sleep affects brain function, memory, heart health and makes people prone to depression and diabetes. That’s why people with an “insomnia” diagnosis are twice as likely to miss work, Brown says, than somebody without the diagnosis.

And, not surprisingly, accidents are a consequence, too, mostly between midnight and early morning, as well as in midafternoon — the periods in the circadian cycle when humans tend to be most tired. Sleepy workers can make lethal mistakes; a 2007 report in the Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety found, among other problems, that medical residents who worked 24-hour shifts made five times as many “serious diagnostic errors” as those who were able to get more sleep.

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