A recently released study has worrying implications for obstructive sleep apnea sufferers who drive. Researchers at the University of Adelaide examined the effects of interrupted sleep and alcohol on drivers who have OSA and those who don’t. It found that there is a much higher risk of an accident with even legal amounts of alcohol in the bloodstream.
The study recruited subjects who drove on a simulator for ninety minutes. It mimicked a two lane country road with long straight stretches followed by shorter curves. Fifty-eight people participated with a range of ages and sexes, nearly two thirds had apnea, many were untreated or undiagnosed.
The people who undertook the driving test were split into several streams; uninterrupted eight hours of sleep or interrupted sleep of four hours and a moderate intake to achieve a blood alcohol level of 0.05. This is the legal level in many countries and states in the USA.
It is well known that sleepy drivers are involved in thirty percent of road traffic accidents. What was not known was how people who were suffering from OSA behaved under a sleepless night or with alcoholic intake.
The result was quite stark. The targeted group were 20 times more likely to have micro-sleeps while behind the wheel and over 7 times more likely to have their eyes closed for longer than two seconds. These are significant indicators of dangerous driving habits and crashes.
The researches recommended that people with untreated OSA not get behind the wheel of a car following a restless night of sleep or after having any alcohol
This study follows one released three years ago which showed that OSA sufferers have a much higher risk of death or heart attacks and have worse outcome following a stroke when compared with non-sufferers.