If you snore heavily is it definitely safe for you to drive?

Being healthy isn’t always about hitting the gym, eating sensibly, and living life in the slow lane; there’s one component of health and wellness that is usually overlooked – and that is sleep. Sleep is vital to one’s well being and more often than not, getting enough sleep can be a nightmare.

For some it’s about following a strict routine and getting to bed at a certain hour. For others, sleep apnoea is often the monster hiding under the bed covers and it’s that which keeps them from getting the rest they need.

Sad man at road accident scene, horizontal

Research conducted by the AA has found that a fifth of motorway collisions in Britain are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel and one in ten crashes on all of Britain’s roads – around 23,300 a year – are also linked to fatigue. Once diagnosed, drivers must inform the DVLA that they have OSA. Once treated however, driving can resume. There is no loss of driving license. However, if left undiagnosed and untreated, OSA can lead to a serious accident, injury and even death of the driver or others on the road.

Their findings also suggest that sleep disturbances may contribute to health disparities among adults.

Symptoms of sleep apnea can be tricky because, like most conditions, even if you have all the tell-tale signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have it. The symptoms of sleep apnoea include loud snoring, choking during sleep as well as feeling exhausted during the day and having to nap on a regular basis. Other factors such as raised blood pressure are also a symptom.

Many people including professional drivers have OSA but are totally unaware. However eventually it’s possible that due to the high number of recent serious accidents on both road and rail, that all commercial drivers, and also train drivers, will soon need to be evaluated for symptoms of OSA.

It’s becoming a very hot topic in North America and what happens there first usually follows elsewhere. According to a study conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects more than a quarter of commercial truck drivers.

In the USA further research was carried out as part of the Sleep 4a Healthy Life program, with the following key findings:

  • 28% of drivers have untreated OSA
  • These drivers are six times more likely to be in an accident
  • These drivers are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke
  • Companies spend twice as much on their medical expenses

Research has shown that untreated sleep apnoea increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents, but those who perform the U.S. Department of Transportation medical certifications for commercial vehicle drivers are still getting up to speed on how to screen for this disorder. The recent deadly Amtrak wreck in Philadelphia underscores the importance of responsible screening, diagnosis and treatment for drivers with sleep apnea.

Every year, tens of thousands of fatalities occur on U.S. highways. Heavy to medium trucks accounted for many of them. As the result of long hours spent on the road, commercial vehicle drivers are at increased risk for motor vehicle accidents. Researchers have studied the effect of sleep apnoea and short sleep duration on commercial drivers and found a decrease in neurobehavioral performance particularly when reduced sleep duration and severe sleep apnea are combined,

The daytime sleepiness is made acute as a result of seriously disturbed sleep and this makes handling all machinery and driving vehicles dangerous. Commercial drivers appear to be even more at risk according to the figures. Most commercial drivers are male, and OSA is twice as common in males than females. Medical experts also state that the lifestyle factors of a commercial driver involve prolonged sitting, and this contributes greatly, to the chance of having OSA.

When there is little movement in the legs during most of the day, fluid builds up in the legs and when one goes to lie down to sleep, that fluid travels upward into the neck and can cause an obstructed airway, which is sometimes the cause of sleep apnoea in adults.  Diet is a factor as well since obesity is also linked to sleep apnea. Many professional drivers get their meals at truck stops, which may not help.

However, 90% of those who have OSA are in denial and it goes untreated. As for Snoring – well that’s just something funny isn’t it?  Or is it?

John Redfern