You snooze you lose … especially on the road

By on March 11, 2009

by Gwen Allen
It is well known that drunk drivers threaten the safety of our roads and highways, but another group of drivers, who are equally frightening and dangerous, is beginning to emerge.

Similar to an intoxicated driver, a drowsy driver displays symptoms that impair driving skills, such as slower reaction time, decreased awareness and impaired judgment.

Whether suffering from a lack of sleep or a sleep disorder, drowsy drivers are statistically more abundant than drunk drivers. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America Poll, “One hundred sixty-eight million people admit to driving while they are tired and 103 million people actually admit to falling asleep at the wheel.”

This has resulted in what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates as 100,000 police-reported crashes caused by drowsy driving each year.

Sleepiness, or a feeling of fatigue, will plague most people at one point or another in their life, but when it is interfering with daily function such as driving a vehicle, then it becomes a life-threatening affliction.

Dr. Ashby Jordan M.D. of Northwest Sleep Center in Elgin, said of his patients, who are seeking help for sleep disorders, roughly 30 percent say it interferes with daily functions (such as driving).

“I have had patients who complain that they have had a hard time getting home from work, falling asleep at stop lights or who have had several accidents already,” Jordan said.

Commonly thought of as a nighttime occurrence, drowsy driving threatens the roadways 24 hours a day.

“In my practice, I see people who suffer mostly from daytime drowsiness, and this almost always signifies another problem,” Jordan said. “Sleepiness in the middle of the night is one thing, but during the day is another.”

Even with six to eight hours of sleep at night, he said people could suffer from conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea that disrupts sleep and causes ongoing fatigue. Symptoms to watch include feeling unrefreshed in the morning (after adequate sleep), poor memory or concentration, easily distracted and the feeling of sleepiness.

“If you need to lower the windows, turn up the radio or pull over to rest, then there is an underlying problem that needs addressed,” Jordan said. “And especially if you’re in an accident from this, that’s a wake-up call, no pun intended.”

He said anyone suffering from drowsiness, especially during the daytime should seek immediate help from a physician.

“The problem is that a lot of people minimize these symptoms, but if you’re having trouble stopping at stop signs or stop lights and concentrating on the road, then that needs addressed,” Jordan said. “It is important to determine why you’re drowsy first so that you can correct the problem. This is sometimes easier said than done, but a physician can treat an underlying medical condition that will hopefully prevent a serious accident.”

For more information contact the Northwest Sleep Center at (847) 695-0385.