Sleep deprivation impairs driving ‘comparable to alcohol intoxication’ – health risks

Dr Michael Mosley on the importance of routine for sleep

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Greg Potter, Phd, who specialised in circadian rhythms, sleep, nutrition, and metabolism cautioned that a lack of sleep worsens brain function, leading to poor attention, memory, decision making, and mood. Potter added that sleep deprivation “impairs driving [to such] a degree that it can be comparable to alcohol intoxication”. While clearly dangerous for a lot of drivers and passengers on the road, a lack of sleep can harm the body directly.

Potter shared that an inadequate amount of sleep, which should be between seven to nine hours nightly, could leads towards obesity.

“People who report short sleep have about 38 percent higher risk of becoming obese,” Potter said, referencing a study by Oita University, Japan.

In the same meta analysis, scientists reported that sleep deprived adults had a 37 percent increased risk of developing diabetes and a 17 percent increased risk of high blood pressure.

What’s more, the study indicated that participants who didn’t sleep enough were also 26 percent more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared to those who did sleep well.

“Short sleep is therefore associated with a shorter life,” Potter added, highlighting how crucial it really is to get a consistently good night’s sleep.

Potter also warned that a lack of sleep impairs the immune system, increasing the risk of respiratory infections such as the common cold.

Drawing attention to shift workers, Potter said: “Shift workers are more at risk of developing numerous diseases.”

Potter pointed out that shift workers are more likely to have a stroke and develop cancer compared to non-shift workers.


“Insomnia is characterised by daytime dysfunction,” said Potter, adding that the sleep disorder can lead to daytime fatigue, low mood, and waking up not feeling refreshed.

Other tell-tale signs of insomnia might include difficulty falling asleep, problems staying asleep, or “difficulty arising from waking up earlier than desired despite an adequate sleep opportunity”.

How to help ease insomnia

“For some, the best way to start sleeping better is to take advantage of ‘stimulus control of behaviour’,” said Potter.

“The premise is simple. Through experience, we learn to engage in specific behaviours in response to certain stimuli.”

Potter elaborated: “if you’re driving and approach a red light (the stimulus), you brake (the behaviour).”

He expanded: “Sometimes the associations we learn work against us though. Maybe you’ve learned to associate your bed, the stimulus, with being awake, which is the behaviour.

“If so, you need to relearn to associate your bed with sleep. To do so, save your bed for sex and sleep only.”

Potter added: “Stop napping, only go to bed the you’re actually sleep, and if you’ve been in bed for 15 minutes and haven’t yet fallen asleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing in dim lighting.”

Potter continued: “Only return to bed when you’re sleepy, and repeat as necessary.

“Set an alarm and get out of bed at the same time each day, regardless of how much you slept.”

By using such a “simple” strategy, Potter is adamant that – over time – a person who had insomnia will become less reliant on sleeping aids and will find falling asleep a little bit easier.

Greg Potter, Phd, is the co-founder and chief science officer at Resilient Nutrition.

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