Asleep at the Wheel: Drowsy Driving and your CPAP

drowsy driving & cpap

What do the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and nearly 100,000 police-reported car crashes every year have in common? Sleep deprivation and fatigue. Sleepiness is a common cause of traffic crashes and workplace accidents – and the cost of people not getting enough sleep is billions of dollars a year. 

Drowsy driving is commonly caused by the sleepiness associated with untreated obstructive sleep apnea. A recent study found that 2-3% of drivers are habitually sleepy while driving. It’s common for sleep apnea patients to report episodes of fatigue — or even falling asleep — while driving. 

A study published by the American Thoracic Society journal explored whether patients with sleep apnea were at increased risk and they found that habitually sleepy drivers were over 13 times more likely to have an accident. People involved in car crashes were 8.5 times more likely to have moderate to severe sleep apnea.

Studies also show that drowsy driving is an all-too-common problem in commercial drivers. This can come from two factors – sleep deprivation from long hours and the challenges of sleeping on the road, and an increased incidence of sleep apnea compared with the general population. Commercial drivers with sleep apnea may be required to provide evidence of treatment to retain their license.

This problem was highlighted in a landmark trial where a truck driver pleaded guilty to two cases of vehicular homicide. The driver had been diagnosed with sleep apnea and refused to use his CPAP machine as prescribed. He was sentenced to jail for six months for two tragic deaths as the result of a crash.

The message is clear: follow your physician’s prescription for treatment if you have sleep apnea. Using a CPAP has been shown to reduce daytime sleepiness – helping you to be better-rested and safer on the road.

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