Most people wouldn’t risk driving under the influence of alcohol—however, they may be driving under the influence of something else that is life-threatening: not getting enough restful sleep. Every year, nearly 1,500 people die in traffic accidents that are linked to sleep disorders. According to research done by The National Commission on Sleep Disorders, over 100,000 automobile accidents per year are linked to sleep disorders, with nearly 1,500 fatalities and 75,000 injuries annually.
You may think “driving under the influence” of a sleep disorder is a strange correlation, but another factor connects addictive disorders and sleep disorders: aside from addictive disorders, there is no other disease with as much denial as there is with obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Although sleep disorders are extremely common—20% of adults suffer from chronic sleep disorders and an additional 10% of adults suffer from intermittent sleep disorders—many people do not know they have a problem sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea is a disease that a patient fails to recognize most often.
Dr. Michael Friedman sites why many adults don’t know they have sleep apnea:
- Patients with sleep apnea can often fall asleep as soon as they lay down.
- Patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea often sleep like a log and they assume that this means they have no sleep problem.
- Since the patients do not hear themselves snoring, they are often in denial about the fact that they snore.
- People with sleep apnea may be fully asleep watching television, reading, or even driving—without even knowing it.
“It turns out that falling sleep when you hit the pillow is not normal,” says Dr. Friedman. “Normal sleep latency is around 15 minutes which means that it should take around 15 minutes to fall asleep after turning lights and the television out. Patients with obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders are not obtaining rest after sleep, so they often fall asleep instantly.”
This denial leads many with sleep apnea to go untreated. The exhaustion caused by sleep apnea leads to traffic accidents, and extremely high medical expenses—costing up to an estimated $15 billion annually in direct medical expenses. This matters for businesses that involve commercial driving also; sleep disorders may be responsible for up to 30% of commercial truck driving accidents. It has been estimated that chronic sleep deprivation causes an estimated $70 billion in lost productivity every year.
So what should you do about it? First, assess if you may have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea signs and symptoms
Sleep-related signs include:
- Sound sleeping
- Disrupted breathing
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
Some non-sleep related signs include:
- Weight gain
- Dry throat
- Impaired sexual function
- Irritability, mood change
If you suspect you aren’t getting restful sleep, make an appointment with one of our physicians who can evaluate you and order any appropriate testing. We can get you on the road to more restful sleep and less risky driving.