By James Hamblin
When Larry Schlachter was a 31-year-old neurosurgeon, he was driving to the hospital early one morning and “just blacked out.” He crashed his car and crushed his chest; broken ribs punctured his thorax, which filled with air and blood. “I almost died.”
Instead he was left with 14 fractured bones and a lingering loss of balance. He attributes the blackout to working 120-hour weeks that left him often on the brink of awareness. He put it to me clinically: “I was a victim of physician fatigue and exhaustion.”
Getting five or six hours of sleep—substantial by many physicians’ self-standards—can leave drivers impaired to a degree that’s similar to drunkenness. That’s according to findings of a study released this month from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash as those who got seven or more.
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