Daytime sleepiness is one of the most common and characteristic symptoms of sleep apnea. But a new study points out that people who have sleep apnea for a long time may not feel tired, but they still experience the elevated risks of traffic accidents associated with sleep apnea.
Perception Plateau for Sleepiness
This study looked at the link between sleep deprivation and car accident risk. To do this, they used data from the Sleep Heart Health Study, a community-based study looking at the health consequences of sleep apnea. The population of the study was 1745 men and 1456 women between the ages of 40 and 89.
To determine the link, they looked at two common causes of sleep deprivation: short sleep duration and sleep apnea. Short sleep duration may impact up to 30% of American adults, who sleep six or fewer hours per night. Sleep apnea may affect as much as a third of American adult men and perhaps a sixth of American adult women.
It was found that people with sleep deprivation had a 33% higher accident risk than those who got more than 6 hours of sleep a night. People with mild or moderate sleep apnea had a slightly increased risk of car accidents, 13% higher, but those with severe sleep apnea had a much higher risk–123% higher than people without sleep apnea!
The study also found that the accident risk was not related to people’s subjective perception of sleepiness. Researchers hypothesize that people who are chronically sleepy may hit a “plateau” for their awareness of sleepiness. They do not think they are unusually sleepy because they are sleepy all the time. As a result, they may not know that they are actually as impaired as they are, putting themselves and others at higher risk.
Watch for Other Signs of Sleep Apnea
This study reminds us how much sleep matters as well as the elevated risks that come with sleep apnea. It also tells us that we need to make sure people understand that sleep apnea’s symptoms may be hard to identify. With as much as 80% of sleep apnea sufferers undiagnosed, it is important to look for all sleep apnea symptoms, including:
- Long pauses in breathing noted by a cosleeper
- Nighttime urination
- Dry mouth in morning
- Morning headaches
- Dozing off at work or in the car
- High blood pressure
- Depression, irritability, or other mood problems
- Memory challenges
- Cognitive difficulty
If you experience one or more of these related symptoms, we recommend that you talk to your doctor about sleep apnea and get a sleep test, the only definitive test for sleep apnea.
Comfortable Treatment Option
If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, we can help. We offer a more comfortable treatment option than CPAP. To learn if you are a candidate for an easy-to-use oral appliance for sleep apnea, please schedule an appointment with St. Louis sleep dentist Dr. Chris Hill downtown, (314) 375-5353, or in Clayton (314) 678-7876.