Never ignore drowsy driving

You’ve been driving for several hours with several more to go and you’re starting to yawn. Next the blinking starts and you’re having trouble keeping your head up. Your thoughts are wandering and suddenly you’ve nodded off for a second, drifted out of the lane or off the road and jerked your head up with a sudden shock. That was scary!

If that sounds familiar it could be that you’ve been working too hard and not getting enough sleep and it’s definitely time to pull over and take a nap. But it could also be a warning sign of something more serious: sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that occurs during sleep when the air passages between the mouth and the lungs collapse. That frequently causes snoring, but if it’s completely blocked you stop breathing momentarily. That can happen more than 30 times an hour in severe cases and can go on all night, greatly disturbing your sleep.

It’s a serious health problem that can starve your body of the oxygen it needs, affecting your heart, lungs, circulatory system and even your brain. The condition makes you sleepy during the day and prone to nod off as your body tries to catch up on lost sleep. A tendency that’s embarrassing in the office could prove fatal on the road.

Sleep apnea is serious and surprisingly common, with up to one in four men over 30 with some degree of it, though it’s less common for women. It’s also under-diagnosed, being the sort of condition you live with without being aware of it. You may feel tired, slightly irritable, down and depressed most of the time without being able to put your finger on a reason for it.

Drowsy driving kills

Needless to say it’s a hidden killer that may be responsible for a great many road deaths. According to VicRoads Road Accident Facts Victoria, approximately one-in-five accidents involve driver fatigue, while 30% of single vehicle crashes in rural areas involve a dozy driver. While not all those accidents can be attributed to sleep apnea, it’s undoubtedly contributing to many of them.

There’s no doubt that sleep apnea is a major health concern and a danger on the roads that largely goes unrealised. That’s the bad news. The good news, however, is that it’s entirely treatable thanks to Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP, technology that was invented right here in Australia by Professor Colin Sullivan. Thank you Professor Sullivan, you’re an unsung medical hero if ever there was one!

CPAP is a pump that blows air through a mask that fits over your nose or mouth while you’re asleep, keeping your airways open. Wearing that mask is guaranteed to make you look like an extra from the set of Dr Who. Who cares! You’re in bed and it’s keeping you alive and a lot healthier.

Get a sleep study

If you even suspect you may have sleep apnea see your Doctor and ask about a sleep study that will properly diagnose it. If it’s confirmed a CPAP machine is going to greatly improve your health and wellbeing. More than that, however, it could save your life and the life of your loved ones and other road users. In other words, you don’t just owe it to yourself to have that snoring and daytime drowsiness properly examined.

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