Is going to work tired the same as going to work drunk?
It could be, in terms of the impact on your performance skills and the risk you put yourself in regarding injury and life-threatening mistakes.
In an important study cited in Dr. Bryan Vila’s excellent book “Tired Cops”, researchers tested the same 39 volunteers during a period of up to 28 hours of sleep deprivation after a full night’s sleep and also during the consumption of measured doses of alcohol up to a breathalyzer reading of about 0.1% BAC. Most of the subjects were 30-49 years old and all but two were male.
Researchers gave them standardized tests to measure vigilance, reaction time, eye-hand coordination, attention, perception, reasoning ability and memory.
As both alcohol and fatigue increased, performance dropped at roughly the same rate.
“As expected, increasing concentrations of alcohol produced significant reductions in performance for most tests and measures,” the researchers reported. But so did sleep deprivation. Being awake for approximately 18-20 hours resulted in roughly the same deterioration of performance for most subjects as having a BAC of 0.1%.
“Impairments in performance which have been judged as the legal limit for driving safely may start to occur as early as 17 hours after waking,” the researchers noted. Vigilance and accuracy seemed to be the first qualities affected. If wakefulness is extended beyond 16-17 hours, which the researchers considered normal for most people, “performance is likely to be impaired sufficiently to represent a considerably greater risk of injury.”
Of course, second jobs, family demands, shift changes and lifestyle choices all affect the amount of fatigue cops experience. If you repeatedly extend your waking period for longer than 18 hours, thereby shortening your sleep, this can produce what the researchers termed “chronic partial sleep deprivation” and may “present very serious risk for safe performance.”
Thinking of sleep as a tactic for peak performance in survival situations may help you respect it more.