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Sleep Deprivation or Fatigue Can Cause Catastrophic Injury or Death

Pilots are limited by law to flying a set number of hours weekly. Truck drivers are similarly regulated. The reason: the potential of falling asleep at their jobs places the lives of others in jeopardy. Here in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley workers often find themselves in an environment where they are responding to emails or texts from their employers at all hours of the day and night, trying to keep up with the demands of their job. These unrealistic expectations result in many employees working late and driving home, sometimes just to work more there. This is a recipe for disaster.

Sleep deprivation or driving while fatigued has been a hot topic in the news lately, especially when it comes to being overtired in the workplace. About a month ago, this story about Sysco truck drivers revealed that many are logging more 16-hour days than are permitted by law. This means too many truck drivers haven't gotten enough sleep, and could pose a danger to themselves and others on the road. In fact, the driver of a Sysco big rig involved in a Sept. 11 crash in San Mateo had been cited for six over-hours violations in the five months leading up to the accident.

It seems obvious to single out truck drivers in this conversation because their job actually consists of operating large vehicles. If they fall asleep on the job because they're sleep deprived, they pose a clear risk on the road. The truth is that they aren't the only ones. Here in the Bay Area, there are tons of exhausted workers running around all the time. Sure, some get rides to and from work on private shuttles and don't necessarily have to worry about commuting. But many do drive, and when they do, they are taking the same risk as an overworked truck driver.

As an accident attorney here in San Francisco, I have found this to be especially true in the startup and tech worlds. Working up to 100 hours in a week is often celebrated here, or at least it's an issue being swept under the rug. We may not think of ourselves as another New York where workers are expected to produce 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but there are some Silicon Valley companies placing their employees and the rest of us at risk every day by overworking their personnel. Fatigued and sleep deprived drivers are just like intoxicated drivers. Both are equally dangerous, even deadly.

If the potential harm you could cause yourself or others doesn't deter you from depriving yourself of adequate sleep, then what will?

Here's a thought: What if you knew that one all-nighter could render you brain damaged? Would you still burn the candle at both ends? A new study out of Sweden confirms what many have suspected of sleep deprivation, namely that a lack of sleep -- even one all-nighter -- actually causes significant damage to the brain. Researchers at Uppsala University tested the brain chemicals of healthy, young men when kept awake all night, and found elevated levels of certain chemicals that indicate possible damage to brain tissue.

Hopefully, once employers here start realizing that neither they nor society as a whole is served by overworking their employees, they will start making some institutional changes around the workplace. What are your thoughts on being overworked and sleep deprived in the Bay Area?

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