Drive Cares

Wake Up to the Workplace Effects of Sleep Disordered Breathing

Did You Know?

  • 17 hours awake is equivalent to a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.05
  • 21 hours awake is equivalent to a BAC of 0.08 (In most states, this is considered intoxicated.)
  • 24-25 hours awake is equivalent to a BAC of 0.10

We’ve all fallen victim to it at some point in our lives, but do we really understand the impact fatigue can have on our bodies and even those around us? Fatigue is a state of feeling tired, weary or sleepy from insufficient sleep, prolonged mental or physical work, or extended periods of stress or anxiety. Fatigue can be described as either acute or chronic.

Acute fatigue results from short-term sleep loss or heavy physical or mental work. Effects of acute fatigue are short in duration and reversed by sleep and relaxation. Chronic fatigue, on the other hand, is the constant state of tiredness not relieved by rest. Did you know that acute fatigue results from short-term sleep loss? #SleepApnea #ForTheRoadAhead Click To Tweet

Symptoms are similar to the flu, last longer than 6 months and interfere with certain activities. Both types of fatigue can stem from the way we carry out our daily activities, including our jobs, and increase the risk of workplace injuries.

Work-related fatigue can be caused by:

  • Long work hours
  • Long hours of physical or mental activity
  • Insufficient break time between shifts
  • Inadequate rest
  • Excessive stress

Unfortunately, there are conditions that can increase the negative effect of normal stress and fatigue from daily activities, causing health problems and a lower quality of life. One such condition is sleep disordered breathing.

What is Sleep Disordered Breathing?

Sleep-Disordered breathing (SDB) describes a group of disorders characterized by abnormalities of respiratory pattern (pauses in breathing) or the quantity of ventilation during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common such disorder, occurs when the airway is blocked when the muscles of the upper airway relax during sleep, causing breathing to stop often for more than 10 seconds. This occurs repeatedly during sleep.

Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea may include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Memory or learning problems
  • Chronic snoring
  • Coughing/Dry throat
  • Frequent urination during the night
  • Falling asleep while at work, sitting quietly, on the phone, or driving
  • Memory or learning problems
  • Mood swings

Motor Vehicle Crashes

Its no secret that workplace fatigue can be a contributing factor to serious car crashes. In fact, 20% of serious vehicle accidents are linked to driver sleepiness. Driving while tired or fatigued is similar in magnitude to driving while under the influence of alcohol.

The most common reasons for car crashes caused by a driver who has fallen asleep are:

  • Working multiple jobs
  • Night shift work
  • Sleep duration of less than 5 hours per night

How to Combat Fatigue at Work

  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Adults should sleep 7-9 hours each day
  • Ensure work environment is conducive to productivity – good lighting, comfortable temperatures, reasonable noise levels, etc
  • Drink caffeine
  • Eat well. A small healthy snack during work breaks will keep your body going.


Fatigue, Extended Work Hours, and Safety in the Workplace, Alberta Human Resources and Employment, Workplace Health and Safety, June 2004, Reformatted August 2010

Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research; Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An unmet Public Health Problem, Washington DC: National Academies Press (US) 2006 pg 4.