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Study: Elevated Accident Risk Among Those With Sleep Apnea

Posted on behalf of Mark F. Griffin of D'Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC on Mar 14, 2015 in Car Accidents

Most people understand that it's not a good idea to get behind the wheel of a car after having slept for only a few hours, as you will be lacking the full strength of your reflexes and that much more likely to succumb to so-called "highway hypnosis."

However, statistics suggest that many people may still be discounting the danger of drowsy driving. Indeed, estimates from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety show that that drowsy driving is responsible for upwards of 328,000 motor vehicle accidents and 6,400 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. every year.   

In recognition of the dangers posed by drowsy driving in their own country, a group of researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden recently set out to find whether a certain subset of troubled sleepers was perhaps more at risk of being involved in a car crash.

Specifically, the researchers looked at those suffering from sleep apnea, a condition in which a person's breathing does not continue uninterrupted during sleep, such that they experience starts and stops in their inhalations and exhalations (manifested by snoring and gasping). Not surprisingly, sleep apnea sufferers typically don't feel refreshed after a night of sleep.

Fortunately, they can experience relief via a continuous positive airway pressure -- or CPAP -- machine, which helps keep the throat open during sleep via the pumping of compressed air into the airway via a mask covering the face and nose.

As part of the study, the researchers gathered data from the Swedish Traffic Accident Registry, comparing and contrasting the accidents rates of 1,478 sleep apnea sufferers receiving treatment at a sleep clinic and 635,786 control group drivers over a ten-year period.

They found the following:

  • The drivers with sleep apnea were 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in a car crash than the drivers in the control group.
  • The drivers with sleep apnea who used CPAP machines for an average of four-plus hours a night were 70 percent less likely to be involved in a car crash.

This is truly an eye-opening study and we can hope that it will help convince sleep apnea sufferers of the importance of using a CPAP machine, as this can affect both their health and the safety of their fellow drivers.