Sleep Apnea and Driving

Drowsiness when driving

Falling asleep on the wheel due to sleep apnea

Sleepiness, like excessive speed, alcohol, careless driving, and poor weather, contributes to or causes motor vehicle crashes. In the recent past, sleep as a factor in automobile crashes has started to be investigated but, without enough data, is still not fully understood. One reason for the deficiency in data on the role of sleepiness in crashes is that not all areas that accident reports include drowsiness as a factor.

Nevertheless, sleepiness does cause and contribute to motor vehicle crashes; in fact, an increased percentage of fall-asleep crashes lead to fatalities than those attributed to other causes. As more care is given to these crashes, the steps that can minimize these crashes need to be explored as well.

Sleepiness is usually caused by sleep deprivation, ignored sleep disorders, and circadian rhythm factors such as jet lag and shiftwork. Moreover, drowsiness may be caused by medication (prescription or over-the-counter) and alcohol, or a mix of both. The most prevalent cause of sleepiness is sleep deprivation. Studies to date show that most fall-asleep crashes are caused by young males under the age of 26, individuals who are very likely to be sleep-deprived.

Sadly, Americans have not been guided that sleep, like exercise and proper diet, is essential to good health.

Fatal car accident

Fatal accidents due to drowsy driving

The American Sleep Apnea Association strongly recommends efforts to educate Americans about the importance of sleep, the causes of sleepiness, and the possible consequences of sleepiness: people must grasp that ignoring sleepiness may be fatal.

Similarly, the ASAA supports efforts to educate Americans about the signs of sleep disorders so that these disorders can be diagnosed and remedied appropriately. Untreated sleep apnea can cause medical issues such as high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases; when medically significant, sleep apnea should be treated regardless of driving status.

Recent research shows that the treatment of sleep apnea with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine minimizes the risk of a fall-asleep crash to that found in the general population.

Various states now have or are weighing regulations to restrict the driving privileges of individuals with sleep disorders. The ASAA is disturbed that such restrictions will scare people who think they may have a sleep disorder from being diagnosed if they fear being diagnosed will cause unnecessarily to the revocation of their license.

References and Resources