On the 13th of April 2015, Willa Junior woke up to find himself in a life-threatening situation.
He was trapped inside the cargo hold of an Alaskan Airlines plane. To make matters worse, it was airborne.
As a baggage handler, he had been loading bags hours before, only to fall asleep on account of exhaustion. Panicking, Willa first called his company. The person at the other end immediately hung up assuming it was a prank call.
As the plane climbed higher and higher, he became increasingly concerned for his safety. He placed a 911 call and then texted his mother. However, as the plane was already too high in the sky, it failed to go through.
Desperate, Willa resorted to shouting and banging on the roof of the cargo hold. Eventually, a member of the flight crew heard him and the plane was diverted to the nearest airport. Fortunately, he survived with no injuries but this story could well have had a different ending.
The consequences of poor sleep are numerous.
As Willa’s story above illustrates, a lack of sleep leads to accidents. For example, more people die from sleep related car crashes every year than from alcohol and drug related ones combined.
Doctors and nurses who are sleep deprived will make poor decisions regarding their patients care which, in some cases, leads to serious injury or death.
The accident reports into the disasters that befell the Challenger mission, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the two nuclear meltdowns at Nine Mile Island and Chernobyl all cited sleep deprivation as a key factor.
Recent medical research has also revealed that a lack of sleep is associated with weight gain, cancer and other types of diseases. In the case of weight gain, a 2004 study showed that production of the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin increases as sleep duration goes down, increasing the likelihood of overeating and obesity.
Sadly, the implications on our health aren’t just physical.
Poor sleep also affects our mental health. Indeed, it has been linked to conditions such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, this is likely related to the fact that one of the vital functions that sleep performs is to rid the brain of toxins via the glymphatic system.
As the writer Thomas Dekker once said, “Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”