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At The Wheel With Sleep Apnea!

Background: When a person has obstructive sleep apnea, they may stop breathing during their sleep for10-30 seconds at a time. And this can happen up to 400 times a night. Obstructive sleep apneadeprives a person of restorative rest and they oftenfeel sleepy thenext day. This lack of sleepcan be very dangerous, especiallyif the person fallsasleep while at the wheel.

Study: Investigators found that"persons with untreated sleep apnea perform as poorly on simulated steering and psychomotor reaction time tests as legally intoxicated individuals." They also noted that the prevalence of obstructed sleep apnea in drivers is estimated at 3%, or 4.7 million drivers. A recent study of 1,391 commercial truck drivers found that 28% had obstructive sleep apnea, with more than one-third characterized as moderate to severe.

Comments: These are sobering numbers indeed. Individuals with sleep apnea are urged to seek diagnosis and treatment, perhaps with the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) while they sleep.

Another approachis to review current highway regulationsthat allowcommercial truck drivers to drive excessively long and exhausting shifts.

It is bad enough whenyou areon the road surrounded by drivers talking on their cell phones but itcould be even worse if they fall asleep behind the wheel while talking on the phone. But then again, maybe the cell phones keep them awake.

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors, MedicineNet.com

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Sleep Apnea Treatment Could Save Lives & Money
By Reducing Auto Accidents, According To Researchers

By Sue Pondrom

May 1, 2004 -- Each year, potentially 980 lives could be saved and $11.1 billion in automobile-accident costs could be avoided if drivers who suffer from a disorder called obstructive sleep apnea were successfully treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), according to a study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine.

Published in the May 2004 issue of the journal Sleep, the study determined the percentage of accidents related to sleep apnea and applied the success rate of treatment to conclude how many of these accidents could potentially have been prevented.

The research team noted that 1,400 fatalities each year are caused by sleep-deprived drivers with obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing disorder caused by intermittent blockage of the airway. The condition is a common problem affecting millions of Americans. During sleep, these individuals stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time, sometimes up to 400 times a night. As a result of poor quality sleep, persons with sleep apnea experience excessive daytime sleepiness which can lead to motor vehicle crashes.