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Drowsy Driving and Other
Sleep Problems

Did you know that motor vehicle accidents between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. account for 30 percent of the total accidents per day and over 50 percent of fatal accidents? Single vehicle crashes are also disproportionately higher during this time, suggesting that driver inattention may be playing a role.

Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation produces impairments in thinking and motor skills that are similar to a blood alcohol level that is above the legal limit. That means driving drowsy can be just as dangerous as driving drunk! Sleep deprivation can happen in just one night or can accumulate over time. As sleep loss accumulates, this can be dangerous because a sleep deprived person can be oblivious of their impairments.

Common causes of sleepiness include:

  • Insufficient overall sleep
  • Disruptions of the normal circadian rhythm set by the biological clock (ex. as with shift work)
  • Undiagnosed sleep apnea

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep, is increasingly becoming a problem. Moderate to severe sleep apnea affects approximately 15 percent of men and 9 percent of women. Sleep apnea symptoms can be present and can go undiagnosed for years; as a result, daytime drowsiness and fatigue becomes more of a problem.

Untreated sleep apnea not only causes an increased risk of traffic and workplace accidents, but also leads to increased health care utilization/cost and serious health implications for the affected individual. These include:

  • Increased risk of high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Non-fatal and fatal cardiovascular events, and more.

Detecting Sleep Apnea & Other Sleep Issues

Sleep apnea can be detected in an overnight sleep study test called a polysomnogram. If you are found to have sleep apnea, you will be treated with a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine that significantly reduces sleepiness. As a result, the treatment of sleep apnea can reduce the risk of traffic accidents due to daytime drowsiness and other adverse heath consequences.

Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) is another method used to detect sleep issues. An MSLT is a daytime test consisting of a series of nap opportunities used to evaluate for causes of sleepiness other than sleep apnea.

If you are still experiencing daytime sleepiness despite using a PAP machine or other alertness producing medications, another test can be administered called the Maintenance of Wakefullness Test (MWT).

Drowsy driving is still a highly under-diagnosed problem. If you think you feel too sleepy during the daytime hours, talk to your healthcare provider and it might be recommended for you to have a sleep study to rule out any undiagnosed sleep problems.