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Study: Sleep Apnea Linked To More Traffic Accidents

Study: Sleep Apnea Linked To More Traffic Accidents

Dr. Michael Layton
May 14, 2015

The greek word “apnea” translates into “without breath” in the english language. Sleep apnea is the involuntary cessation of the breath while a person sleeps. Recent studies have revealed that sleep disorders are a regular contributor to vehicular accidents. The severity of OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) is being examined in relation to chronic diseases. Receiving a proper diagnosis by a doctor or sleep specialist can reveal if an individual is deemed a high risk for driving while fatigued.

The legalities of diagnosing a person with obstructive sleep apnea has far reaching implications. In the future will people diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea have to pay higher premium insurance costs? What about people who drive commercial vehicles that display symptoms of having a sleep disorder, will they be required to undergo regular exams to retain their licences? People who experience chronic snoring may be reticent to get diagnosed for fear of penalties.

At this current time, there are no laws preventing drivers with sleep apnea from driving. Chronic sleep disorder is a problem that can affect any number of people. For people who suspect they have sleep apnea an early diagnosis is recommended by a medical professional before more serious health complications develop.

Types Of Sleep Apnea

There are 2 main types of sleep apnea:

1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This occurs when the throat muscles are obstructed by a narrowing of the airway at various stages during sleep. The epiglottis is a cartilaginous flap at the top of the larynx that regulates the passage of air. When it becomes blocked the positive airflow pressure forces the epiglottis in the opposite direction making it difficult for a person to inhale properly. People suffering from OSA may stop breathing up to 100 times during the night, the cessation of breath may last up to a minute or longer. Many people who have this condition are completely unaware of this problem.

2. Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

People who suffer from central sleep apnea experience shallow breathing in contrast to a failure to breathe during the night like OSA sufferers. CSA sufferers account for a smaller percentage of all known cases of sleep apnea. OSA is experienced by the majority of people with sleep disorders. The breathing of a CSA sufferer can be extremely shallow resulting in an insufficient intake of air necessary for a restful sleep. The lack of oxygen to the brain usually results in the person waking up in the middle of the night.

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates an astonishing 858,900 or 3 percent of Canadian adults 18 and older reported sleep apnea symptoms. Of those diagnosed 26 percent of adults reported having all the main symptoms of developing obstructive sleep apnea.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) estimates 50 to 70 million adults in the United States have chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. The CDC analyzed data from a new sleep module that was part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 2009. What they discovered among the 74,571 adult respondents in the 12 states was very interesting, 35.3 percent of people who reported getting less than 7 hours of sleep reported delayed alertness in daytime activities.

Public awareness of sleep disorders namely OSA has taken on significant importance in the last few years. Excessive snoring is no longer overlooked by health care professionals as it may have been in the past. Snoring was once thought of as a mild nuisance but extensive research by sleep disorder institutes and doctors has shed light on the link of chronic diseases and sleep apnea. Education and training are the best current methods for combating the effects of sleep apnea. Sleep Awareness Week is an annual public education campaign to promote the necessity and importance of sleep, the last one took place March 2-8, 2015. The NSF (National Sleep Foundation) specifically examines sleep and its effects on the modern family. Lack of sleep is a major cause of traffic accidents. Before getting into the statistics of vehicular accidents lets examine who is at risk for OSA.

Who Is At Risk?

Traditional sleep apnea was thought to be most prevalent in obese males. Longitudinal epidemiological research studies have been found to be accurate in ascertaining diseases within certain demographic groups.

More recently, as Home Sleep Testing (HST) has becoming easier and more prevalent more and more women and men, regardless of weight have mild, moderate obstructive sleep apnea. The following statistics explain why it is important to not delay on having a home sleep test.

People with sleep apnea fit into the following categories:

  • 2.5 times more likely to have diabetes
  • 1.8 times more likely to report hypertension
  • 2.2 times more likely to report heart disease
  • 2.2 times more likely to report depression or bipolar disorder, mania and dysthymia
  • 2009 Canadian Community Health Survey-Sleep Apnea Rapid Response

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

  1. Dry mouth
  2. Sore throat
  3. Memory retention problems
  4. Depression and mood swings
  5. Frequent urination during the night
  6. Loud snoring
  7. Gasping for breath
  8. Decreased libido
  9. Daytime lethargy
  10. Falling asleep while driving

Traffic Accident Stats

The vision of RSS 2015 is to make Canada’s roads the safest in the world. In 2008, Canada was ranked 10th in terms of fatalities per billion vehicle kilometers traveled compared to other member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. - Transport Canada website Canada’s Road Safety Strategy (RSS) 2015

The primary risk groups for vehicular fatalities are young drivers aged 16 to 24, medical at risk drivers (i.e. heart disease and cognitive disorders), professional drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, bicyclists and impaired drivers (drugs, alcohol and sleep deprived motorists). Undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea is a very real threat when it comes to contributing to the statistics having to do with fatalities and traffic accidents.

Treatment for Sleep Apnea

The American Thoracic Society recommends patients diagnosed as high risk drivers undergo polysomnography testing at a sleep laboratory. If a clinical study reveals without a doubt a person has OSA, CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure) therapy may be recommended for treatment.

CPAP machines and dental appliances have proved to be successful in treating sleep apnea. This is great news for drivers and people employed in the transport industry. Making a simple checklist or talking to your spouse if you display any of the symptoms of this sleep disorder can put your mind at ease. If you think you or a friend or family member are an OSA sufferer, please give our office a call at (778) 803-1615 or fill out the appointment request form under the Contact Us tab. We will help you by arranging a free Home Sleep Test (HST) and diagnosis with a sleep physician who specializes in sleep studies.

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