The Exxon Valdez oil spill, the NASA Challenger shuttle explosion and the Chernobyl nuclear accident have one thing in common – they were caused by human error due extreme sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation is not surprising in today’s society, which is characterized by increased productivity, longer work hours and more time spent travelling. It is predicted that one in two adults in the United States suffers from sleep deprivation. In fact, sleep deprivation is so common that one third of all drivers fall asleep while driving at least once in their lifetime. Such sleep deprivation is worrying; it is estimated that 100,000 crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,500 fatalities occur annually as a result of drivers sleeping behind the wheel, incurring more than $30 billion of losses. The actual cost incurred by all accidents due to sleep deprivation by automobile drivers, airplane pilots, vessel captains and train conductors could be significantly higher that imagined.

The effects of sleep deprivation are compounded into a dangerous sleep debt over time, and it is necessary to sleep over and above the normal number of hours to eliminate the sleep deficit. Thankfully, the homeostatic relationship between sleep and being awake induces those with serious sleep deprivation to go to sleep, thereby ameliorating the precarious situation.