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Sleep disorders can kill – Not just you but others too.

A new DVLA report blames Sleep Apnoea for 20% of Motorway accidents.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is the most common sleep related breathing disorder and is a major cause of daytime sleepiness. People with sleep apnoea are known to have a higher risk of being involved in road traffic accidents due to the associated loss of concentration and sleepiness.

There are obviously other reasons too due to lack of good sleep.

The DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) in Britain has stated that a greater awareness of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) could save lives.

Falling asleep at the wheel is a criminal offence and could lead to a prison sentence. The reason for the sleepiness actually makes no difference. The same law applies if you are sleepy because of ‘normal’ sleep disturbance, for example caused by a new baby, or if you are sleepy due to a medical condition. The law assumes that you know when you are sleepy and therefore that you can choose not to drive when you are feeling sleepy.

Further to a new guide to the condition, they have underlined the fact that OSA is thought to cause as many as one-fifth of accidents occurring on Britain’s motorways, and as a consequence needs greater recognition amongst all drivers, particularly commercial, as this increased knowledge and higher awareness could doubtless save lives.

If you do suffer with sleep apnoea it is sensible to stop driving until you are established on treatment. If you continue to drive you could be endangering your life and the lives of your family and other road users.

 Additionally, if you drive for a living and have been diagnosed with sleep apnoea most hospitals will fast track you for your investigations and your treatment. The law does require you to tell the DVLA when you have been diagnosed with sleep apnoea, irrespective of what type of driver’s licence you hold. It is an offence not to do this. It is also advisable to inform your car insurance company that you have sleep apnoea.

Sleep apnoea recently has been closely linked to a number of fatal driving incidents involving commercial vehicles, including the death of a Newcastle pensioner who was hit by a bus and killed in 2011 after the driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel. The bus driver was later diagnosed with OSA.

Drivers of commercial vehicles are thought to be particularly likely to develop this highly dangerous and life-disrupting sleep disorder as it has been found to have a much higher likelihood of being found amongst middle-aged men with sedentary jobs such as driving.

Scientists from the University Hospital in Leeds, England, conducted two studies involving sleep apnoea — a pattern of disrupted breathing during sleep — and driving performance.

In one study, people with untreated sleep apnoea completed a survey about their driving behaviour and also took a 56 mile simulated driving test. The “drivers” were assessed on ‘completion’, time spent in the middle lane, unprovoked crashes and crashes caused by veering off the road.

Their results were compared to people who didn’t have sleep apnoea.

Results for people with Sleep Apnoea                             Without Sleep Apnoea

35% admitted to nodding off while driving                         11% nodded off

38% failed the driving test                                                     Nobody failed the test

Similar results were gained in a second study but the researchers noted that many of the sleep apnoea patients couldn’t actually complete the test. They also had more crashes and had real difficulty following a clear set of directions given at the start of the test.

The key signs for those suffering drowsiness through sleep apnoea are:

  • Impaired reaction time, vision and judgment.

  • Problems with information processing.

  • Short-term memory difficulties.

  • Decreased vigilance, motivation and performance.

  • Moodiness and increased aggressive behaviour.

Individuals at an increased risk of drowsy driving include those who…

  • Have had less than 7 to 8 hours of sleep.

  • Drive after being awake for more than 12 hours.

  • Take medication that causes drowsiness.

  • Drive at night or the early afternoon.

  • Consistently have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep at night.

  • Have untreated organic sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy or periodic limb movement disorder.

  • Drive frequently for long periods on monotonous roads.

  • Work the night shift, especially when driving home after the shift.

  • Driving alone

In addition, younger drivers age 16-24 are nearly twice as likely to be involved in a drowsy driving crash than drivers age 40-59. Men are also much more likely than women to report having fallen asleep while driving.

Make sure that you don’t become a statistic – do something about it.

There is good data confirming that drivers are aware when that they are sleepy long before they actually fall asleep. For any individual if they feel sleepy they should pull off the road immediately and take a break. A brief sleep and some caffeine will help to refresh you. Research shows that Caffeine improves mental alertness and decreases sleepiness. A 20 minute nap and 150mg caffeine (1-2 cups of coffee) should be sufficient to improve alertness and cognitive skills.

However, short-term measures are not sufficient for an individual with OSA. This is a condition that can have serious consequences for both the sufferer and others around them. Investigations for OSA include a series of assessments and an overnight sleep study that will monitor parameters such as snoring, pauses in breathing, blood oxygen levels and nasal airflow. If the tests determine that OSA is present, most people will be treated using CPAP, Continuous Positive Airways Pressure which is a small machine that blows room air into the airway to prevent an apnoea happening, or alternatively by using a simple oral appliance similar to a sports gum-shield. This type of treatment literally transforms lives, very often after just one night.

From the Author of the article:

John Redfern worked for 15 years at leading London Advertising agencies writing on many international products and markets during that time, before moving into a consultancy role, where he has gained long experience of writing on important matters of personal health.

John has had in-depth involvement in a broad spectrum of subjects in this area, covering all possible age groups.

Through his work as a consultant to Sleeppro, John has acquired an in-depth knowledge of snoring and sleep apnoea, and the many serious health problems with which they are so closely associated.

In addition, he has spent time developing projects for the British National Health Service, some major educational groups and authorities, and various voluntary organizations and manufacturers whose aim is to focus on family health, fitness and well-being.

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