Which is Better: Tired or Drunk?

Why do people attempt to drive cars, operate complex machinery, or fly airplanes when they are tired?

Answers to this question are varied, but usually boil down to one common attitude: we think the risk is trivial or perfectly acceptable! Often this is the case because we have done it before, toughed it out, or “made it safely”. As a result we become cavalier and self-assured–too often to the determent of others and ourselves.

Consider the person who may drive several hundred miles while frequently dozing at the wheel without stopping because they wanted to get home. Yet this same person considers it criminal to drive while under the influence of alcohol. What is the difference? Sure, being sleepy is natural, but it is also as dangerous as alcohol when operating a vehicle or other equipment.

A person who has been awake for 17 hours (a typical day!) has the performance of a rested person who has just had 1-2 beers–and on some measures even worse. One who has been awake for 22 hours has the performance of a rested person who has had 3-4 beers! Fatigue impairs cognitive performance, judgement and motor function in ways very similar to alcohol.

The research investigators stated: “Sleep is needed at the end of the day if adverse effects of performance are to be avoided.

Most research in this area focuses on physical and mental performance–and the impact is more significant than most realize. We must also ask the question: Does fatigue impact the moral and spiritual functions of humans? I would posit that it most certainly does. Fatigue is really serious stuff!