How Sleep Apnoea Can Increase the Risk of Auto Accidents

Person-sleepy-while-drivingSleepiness and drowsy driving can be caused by a number of factors such as jetlag, shift work, sleep deprivation and untreated sleep disorders -- including obstructive sleep apnoea. The American Sleep Apnoea Association is supporting efforts to increase awareness about good sleep and the consequences of sleepiness.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a sleep disorder causing poor quality sleep and daytime drowsiness as a result. During sleep, the muscles of the airway relax and for some people this can cause a blockage in the airway. Fortunately, the brain wakes the sleeper up when this occurs; the airway opens and the sleeper can breathe again. Unfortunately, this pattern can repeat hundreds of times each night and interrupts the person's sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnoea is characterised by snoring and gasping, long pauses between each breath and daytime drowsiness because of the disturbed sleep. It is more common in men and people who are overweight. It's a serious condition and can lead to other issues like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

Drowsy Driving and Sleep Apnoea

While most people are aware of the dangers of drunk-driving, there is no test for 'drowsy driving' -- and most drivers do not remember (or deny) falling asleep at the wheel. However, drunk-driving and drowsy driving cause very similar mental impairments. When you are deprived of sleep, reaction times are slower and you are less aware of the environment.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (2016), driving on only 5 or 6 hours of sleep can almost double the risk of auto accidents. It is really important to talk to your GP if you are experiencing poor or disturbed sleep as your general health, quality of life and ability to drive and operate machinery can be affected if you have an untreated sleep disorder like sleep apnoea.

People must understand that ignoring sleepiness may be fatal. If drivers are sleepy, they should know not to get behind the wheel.

The Good News about CPAP Treatment

While any diagnosis can be difficult to come to terms with, particularly if it is affecting your work or ability to drive, the good news is that there are lifestyle changes that you can make such as quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption.

There are also dental appliances -- similar to a retainer -- to help keep the airway open, and are very effective with mild to moderate OSA.

Continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) involves wearing a mask that uses air pressure to keep the airway open so that you are able to breath properly throughout the night.

For people affected by daytime drowsiness and who are at a higher risk of auto accidents, CPAP therapy is proving extremely helpful. A Swedish study which focused on drowsy driving and sleep apnoea found that the risk of auto crashes was reduced if the sleep disorder was treated using CPAP therapy.

Top tips for avoiding Drowsy Driving

No-one should risk drowsy driving, whatever the cause. There are some simple things you can do to help reduce the risk of falling asleep at the wheel:

  • Break long journeys into shorter segments with frequent rest stops.
  • Be aware of warning signs of drowsiness such as frequent yawning, blinking and tired eyes.
  • Pull over if you start to miss signs, exits or can't remember the last few miles.
  • Avoid driving during the night and rest in the early afternoon as these times are not aligned to your body clock.
  • Avoid alcohol and sedatives the night before a long drive.

Sleep is a really important

Adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, but a significant number of adults routinely fail to get this recommended amount of sleep.

This allows the body to rest, repair and re-energize itself. Long-term sleep deprivation leads to poor general health, poor quality of life and a greater risk of accidents.

Try to develop a good bedtime ritual to help your body relax and unwind. This means avoiding using screens and devices before trying to sleep. Make sure that your bedroom is a quiet, dark sanctuary that supports a peaceful night's sleep.

If you are experiencing daytime drowsiness, poor sleep or your partner describes your snoring, or breathing stoppages during the night, see your GP who can start to diagnose what is causing the sleep disruption.

Obstructive sleep apnoea can be treated effectively so that you can maintain your quality of life and continue to drive safely.

To learn more about how sleep apnoea affects driving and for more information about treatment, follow the links below:

  2. .



Somnowell Inventor - Visiting Professor Simon Ash FDS MSc MOrth BDS

Prof. Ash is the inventor of the highly successful SOMNOWELL Chrome device for snoring and sleep apnoea.

The Somnowell Chrome is made to exacting standards in the Somnowell laboratory under the supervision of Visiting Professor Simon Ash. Prof. Ash and his master technicians create each Somnowell Chrome device using their wealth of experience and expertise.

Prof. Ash works at the forefront of his profession. He is a Consultant and Specialist Orthodontist with over 30 years clinical experience, with a special interest in sleep related breathing disorders, TMJD, and bruxism. He currently works in Harley Street London and two private hospitals in London as part of a multi-disciplinary team managing snoring and sleep apnoea, and is Visiting Professor of Orthodontics at the BPP University.