Woman driving a vehicle.

Driving When You Have Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that interrupts normal breathing, causing the person to start and stop breathing throughout the night. Obstructive sleep apnea affects 18 million people, but is often undiagnosed and unrecognized. It’s vital to understand the disorder as well as the ways it can affect a person’s day-to-day life as it can have potentially harmful side effects. 

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

While there are several types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most ubiquitous. OSA is a condition that causes a person’s breathing to halt during sleep briefly. It is more likely to occur in men versus women and is seven times more common in people with obesity. In a person without sleep apnea, breathing occurs normally during periods of rest. In someone with OSA, natural breathing is intermittently stopped due to a narrowing in the throat. The pauses in breathing only last a few seconds, but the condition causes some adverse effects.

The most common trait of this type of sleep apnea is snoring and lack of restful sleep. However, there are other, more serious consequences if OSA is left untreated. For example:

Diagnosing Apnea 

Obstructive sleep apnea and driving.Because sleep apnea causes an interruption in breathing, that also means a depleted oxygen supply to the brain and other vital organs. Fatigue and morning confusion set in as a result. Other tell-tale signs are:

  • Persistent headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability 
  • Worsening depression
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Edema

If you exhibit any of the above symptoms, it’s time to consult with your healthcare practitioner. Diagnosing sleep apnea requires a sleep professional to conduct a series of tests before determining the existence and severity of the condition. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Driving

If OSA occurs during sleep, does it have any bearing on other waking activities? Based on many studies, it does. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, since sleep apnea affects someone’s sleep patterns, that can translate to lack of alertness, excessive drowsiness, and difficulty focusing while on the road. Studies have shown that drowsy driving can lead to increased accidents and deaths. This can be a serious concern for frequent, professional drivers, like commercial truckers. While departments of transportation don’t always test for OSA, they do take it seriously and recommend diagnoses and treatment for safety. 

OSA’s effects on a person’s driving doesn’t only apply to professional drivers. Anyone on the road with OSA could be putting themselves and others at risk. If you drive, and suspect you have sleep apnea, diagnosis and treatment can help save lives.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Thankfully, there are plenty of treatment options for sleep apnea. Frequently simple lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, can alleviate symptoms. Your physician might also recommend other solutions like:

  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Changing sleeping positions, like lying on your side or stomach, instead of your back
  • Prescribe specific therapies like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines
  • Surgery, in extreme cases

Is it Time to Schedule a Sleep Test?

Worried that you might have sleep apnea? Don’t wait to get help. At Northwest Sleep Health, our caregivers can assess your sleep health, schedule necessary tests, and design a course of action to get you back to sleep!

Do you have more questions about sleep apnea? Reach out to the team at NWPC, our practitioners are here to help. Contact us to schedule an in-person or telehealth appointment today!

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