Drowsy Driving: Sleepiness behind the wheel can be deadly

Life can get busy, full of appointments and obligations that keep us on the go and can even push us to the limit in order to get it all done. But, when we push ourselves to the point of getting behind the wheel tired, we put others and ourselves in danger. Drowsy driving can be extremely dangerous, and studies have shown 16.5 per cent of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver.

As we approach the holiday travel season, many people will be hitting the roads to visit family and friends. Here are a few things for you to consider that can help you stay safe and alert on the road.

Worst times for sleep-related crashes

Drivers are more susceptible to sleep-related crashes at night or in the afternoon. At night, especially between midnight and 6 a.m., is particularly risky because it is when we are generally sleeping. Many drowsy driving crashes also occur during the “afternoon lull” between 1 and 5 p.m.

Younger drivers are more likely to drive when they are drowsy

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Signs you are too tired to safely drive

  • Trouble remembering the last miles driven
  • Difficulty keeping your eyes open and focused
  • Difficulty keeping your head up
  • Yawning frequently or repeatedly rubbing your eyes
  • Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating or hitting rumble strips
  • Missing traffic signs or driving past your exit
  • Feeling irritable or restless
  • Daydreaming or having disconnected thoughts

Results from a recent Traffic Safety study found younger drivers are more likely than older drivers to drive while drowsy. Drivers between the ages of 16-24 are 78 per cent more likely to have been drowsy at the time of a crash than drivers between the ages of 40-59.

Young people tend to think they need less sleep and can find themselves sleep deprived. Teenaged bodies are still growing, requiring approximately nine hours of sleep a night to be fully rested.

Here are seven tips to help you avoid drowsy driving crashes:

  1. Get Your ZZZs. Get enough sleep, at least seven hours, the night before a trip. Organize tasks related to your trip so you can complete them in the days before your departure. This will allow you to get a good night’s rest instead of staying up late to finish the preparations.
  2. Travel at times when you are normally awake. Driving at times you are normally awake will allow you to be the most alert. Also, keep meals light when driving to minimize the effects of the “afternoon lull.”
  3. Caffeine has its limits. While caffeine may help you feel more awake, it takes about 30 minutes to take effect and only lasts a few hours. It is not a substitute for getting enough sleep, but it can be part of your strategy for staying alert.
  4. Use the buddy system. An alert passenger can watch you for signs of fatigue. They can also help keep things interesting by playing music or engaging in conversation.
  5. Schedule stops. Plan to stop every two hours or 100 miles to give you a break from the road. Use the stop to get out of the vehicle, stretch and walk around so your body can refresh itself.
  6. Take a power nap. Pull off the road and pick a safe place to park, such as a rest area or parking lot. Rest for 20 minutes, and then get up and walk around before continuing your trip.
  7. Above all, never drive while sleepy. If you become sleepy while driving, pull over and get some sleep. Remember, if you nod off for four seconds while traveling 65 miles per hour, you will travel more than the length of a football field without having control of your vehicle.

Sleepiness and fatigue can slow your reaction time, decrease awareness, and impair your judgment just like drugs or alcohol. Use the tips above to help you stay alert behind the wheel, so you and your family can have a safe holiday season on the roads.

SleepPro wishes you a very safe Christmas and New Year


Treating Sleep Apnoea May Lower Problem Blood Pressure by 10%

Doctor taking blood pressure to patient

People with sleep apnoea and hard-to-control high blood pressure may see their blood pressure drop if they start to treat the sleep disorder, according to new research that has been carried out in Europe.

The standard treatment for sleep apnoea, a condition characterized by disrupted breathing during sleep, is either to wear an all night facemask with oxygen supply, called CPAP, or an approved mouthpiece, sometimes called a splint.

This dangerous sleep disorder has been linked to high blood pressure.

Patients included in this study were taking three or more drugs to lower their blood pressure, in addition to having sleep apnoea. Participants who then underwent treatment for 3 months reduced their diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading) and improved their overall night-time blood pressure, the researchers found.

 

“The prevalence of sleep apnoea in patients with resistant high blood pressure is very high,” said the lead researcher. “Treatment for this increases the probability of recovering the normal nocturnal blood pressure pattern,” he said.

The European report in question has been published in the December Journal of the American Medical Association.

The CPAP system consists of a pumping unit that pushes air through a tube connected to a mask that fits over the patient’s mouth and nose. The air forced through by the device keeps the airway from closing, and thus allows continuous sleep. The mouthpiece however is much easier to use and is similar to a sports gum-shield – easy and comfortable to wear – and moves the jaw forward slightly during sleep opening the airway in doing so.

Sleep apnoea is a common disorder. The pauses in breathing that patients experience can last from a few seconds to minutes and they can occur 30 times or more an hour. As a result, sleep quality is poor, making sleep apnoea a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness.

The researchers state that short term, the findings are encouraging, and now it needs to test for the long-term benefits to see if it is sustained.

“Close to three out of four patients with resistant high blood pressure have been found to have obstructive sleep apnoea, and this sleep apnoea may contribute to the difficulty to control the blood pressure in these patients. Whether these improvements in blood pressure can be sustained in the long term and will translate to improved health outcomes will require additional studies,” he said.

The researchers found that those receiving treatment lowered their 24-hour average blood pressure 3.1 mm Hg more than those not receiving treatment and similar results were achieved for the average diastolic blood pressure.

The difference in systolic pressure wasn’t statistically significant between the two treatment groups, the researchers noted.

The systolic pressure, the top number, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The diastolic pressure, the bottom number, measures the pressure in the arteries between beats.

John Redfern

JR/END/491/15.12.2013


Heavy snorers are twice as likely to suffer fatal strokes

New research from the Institute of Cardiology based on 25,000 people states emphatically that snorers are 80 percent more likely to suffer some form of heart disease, and are twice as likely to suffer a fatal stroke due to a blood clot than those who sleep peacefully.

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These alarming findings, published in the International Journal of Cardiology, suggest thedangers of heavy snoring are greater than previously thought.

Around three million people suffer with the snoring condition sleep apnoea, with at least one in four men and one in ten women affected, although this probably understates the problem, as most cases go undiagnosed.

As sleep begins, the muscles in the airways relax. While this does not pose a problem for most people, in sleep apnoea it leads to breathing being shut off for at least ten seconds. Air vibrates against the soft tissue that stands in its way, causing the characteristic ‘rasping’ sound that snorers make. Once the brain realises that breathing has stopped, it sends out a signal for the airway muscles to contract again. This opens the airway and the sufferer normally wakes with a jolt.

In mild sleep apnoea, this can happen once every ten minutes. But in more severe cases, it means sleep can be disturbed every couple of minutes. Treatment can involve sleeping with a mask that pumps air into the throat, but this is often found difficult by sufferers and rejected in favour of the popular and effective alternative, wearing a mouthpiece or splint, which keeps the air passage open when asleep. Similar to a gum shield that is worn in games like rugby, this method is now medically recommended, and better products are NHS approved

But, as previously said, tens of thousands of sufferers are thought to go untreated, and this latest study suggests that the dangers to the heart and brain are greater than doctors thought. Scientists came up with their findings after pooling data from 12 earlier studies that had been done.

The results showed that strokes were twice as likely in heavy snorers, but mild snorers faced little or no increased risk.

Scientists think that the problem stems from the blood flow to the heart and brain being affected by constant breathing interruptions, but it may also be due to the fact that heart rate and blood pressure are repeatedly jolted out of their naturally lower state during deep sleep.

Strokes hit 150,000 people every year, with 30,000 being fatal. Only cancer and heart disease kill more people.

The researchers said: ‘Patients with sleep apnoea who snore heavily will be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and death.’

So if you think you may have the condition, have a chat to your doctor and take steps to stop snoring immediately with an approved product that has a high proven success rate.

For many people, it is linked to other risk factors for the heart, such as obesity, so it’s likely your doctor will help you think about lifestyle changes to improve the condition, such as making sure you take regular exercise and examine what you regularly eat or drink.

By John Redfern

JR/END/564/08.12.13


Being overweight and snoring may soon seriously affect your livelihood

It has long been accepted that carrying excess weight can cause snoring, and that as we get older there is a greater likelihood of this happening. The soft tissue of the throat softens as we age and has a tendency to restrict the airflow as a result. As a consequence when we force air through the narrowed throat, the resultant vibration is the sound of snoring and the worse the constriction, the louder the problem.

This deprivation of oxygen also causes poor sleep and it results in next day drowsiness or fatigue, dependent on the severity of the problem. At its worst, OSA is the result (obstructive sleep apnoea), and this can damage health severely.

The DVLA, AA and other motoring organisations in the UK agree that a significant number of motorway accidents happen as a result of drowsiness caused by poor sleep hygiene, and the figure may be as high as 12% of all accidents. In the USA this percentage is even higher – almost 17% being attributed to this problem as obesity is a major problem in the country.

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Strong attention has been paid for some years on alcohol consumption for both drivers and airline pilots, but that has now broadened to include sleep hygiene. As ever, the USA leads the way but this does of course include all pilots who fly there from other countries, not just US pilots.

In a month where here in the UK, we have already seen an Air Pakistan pilot jailed for 9 months for being three times over the accepted limit, this has been followed by the following steps being taken:

1. The Federal Aviation Authority is to check overweight pilots for restful sleep. Overweight airline pilots and air-traffic controllers are going to start getting a closer medical evaluation from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The change means that specialist aviation medical examiners will calculate each pilot’s Body Mass Index, which calculates weight divided by height, when they are examined every six months. Anyone with a BMI of at least 40 or who has at least a 17-inch neck would then have to be evaluated by a sleep specialist.

Pilots can then be disqualified if they have an untreated sleep problem called obstructive sleep apnoea, which can lead to daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure and other major health issues. The new test will require that overweight pilots be treated for obstructive sleep apnoea before receiving their certificates.

After all overweight pilots are treated, tests for obstructive sleep apnoea will be extended for all pilots because it has been assessed that 30% of people with a BMI that is less than 30, also suffer from the problem.

The policy change will be extended to air traffic controllers too; recent news has covered several incidents where controllers have fallen asleep on duty.

2. The US Senate passes sleep apnoea bill for truck drivers

In the same month the US Senate has recently passed a bill that that would compel the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to create new regulations addressing dangerous sleep disorders that have been found to be common among many truck drivers — including sleep apnoea.

  • Overweight truck drivers account for 18 per cent of fatal truck accidents
  • 86% of the 3.2 million truck drivers in the U.S. are overweight or obese
  • 30% of American truck drivers are believed to have sleep apnoea

The overall result is that aggressive screening will now take place throughout the Transport Industry and we must ask ourselves the question how long it will be before it happens here – and perhaps it’s even a matter of the sooner the better.

JR/END/614/01.12.2013