Driving while drowsy means our patients are about eight times more likely to cause an accident. These federal estimates were found in a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. In their study, they used in-vehicle camera footage of thousands of drivers that agreed to participate. After reviewing the cameras and results, the study found that drivers are falling asleep at the wheel at an alarming rate. It’s more than we thought.
With more than 700 crashes examined in the study, about 9.5 percent were caused by a drowsy driver. Drowsiness also played a role in almost 11 percent of accidents that caused serious property damage. This means we need to educate our patients more than ever before about the detrimental effects of sleep apnea not only on their health, but their surroundings.
Encourage patients to get more sleep
If a patient just isn’t sleeping, tell them to get more sleep. The AAA Foundation recommends getting at least seven hours of sleep a night before driving. While that sounds like a great idea, it isn’t always going to happen. In fact, about 35 percent of U.S. drivers actually sleep less than seven hours a night according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And if you sleep for just four or five hours, it can quadruple your risk for an accident. However, if the patient has sleep apnea, that might be a different story when it comes to getting enough sleep each night.
Provide treatment for sleep apnea
Part of the issue is that many of patients need a lifestyle change to be able to sleep more, while others suffer from sleep apnea and don’t even realize it. Sleep apnea can make our patients feel sleepy enough to be drowsy drivers. Even if they stop the car and take a short nap, odds are they will still feel tired.
Patients that suffer from sleep apnea and are often found driving can experience altered senses that are commonly used to drive safely. It will often be difficult for them to focus their eyes, remain alert and to react quickly during various driving situations.
To combat this, it is important to not only educate our patients on the risk of untreated sleep apnea, but to also be able to identify signs and symptoms so we can recommend proper treatment or a sleep physician for diagnosis.
What are you doing to help your patients get the sleep they need to function daily?