If You Are Feeling Drowsy While Driving, It Could be Sleep Apnea
Help! My eyes won’t stay open!
You’re on your way to work, and the sun is piercing through the windshield, threatening to make it past your sunglasses as well. You have that trusty third or fourth cup of coffee in the cupholder, and…it’s not enough.
Even though you had plenty of sleep the night before, your eyes keep drifting shut. The sun might be up, but the light just seems to be making you more tired.
Did you know that if this is a common occurrence, you might suffer from sleep apnea?
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to stop breathing multiple times throughout the night—sometimes up to five times an hour. Terrifying, right? When this happens, your brain wakes you up just enough to remind your body to resume breathing.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
With the most common type of sleep apnea, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), the muscles in your throat and tongue relax just enough to close off your airway. This often causes excessive snoring. Not everyone with sleep apnea snores, but it can certainly be a big sign to watch for.
The lack of sleep can create headaches, difficulty staying awake or paying attention throughout the day, irritability, or even waking up with a dry mouth. Of course, another glaring symptom would be if your partner takes note of your abnormal breathing patterns throughout the night.
What are the dangers of driving drowsy?
Did you know that over 2% of driving accidents are caused by drowsy driving? If you’ve ever been in a position where your eyes just won’t stay open, you likely won’t be surprised by this statistic.
When you are too tired to drive, your reaction time is severely compromised. Your thinking speed slows down dramatically, making it much harder to make smart decisions. The CDC estimates that being awake for 24 hours at a time is equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of 0.10. As a reminder, the legal limit for alcohol is 0.08.
True, there are many other causes of drowsy driving than sleep apnea. You could be on a new medication, or the kids kept you up all night. But if this is happening after what you believe is a good night’s sleep, it is worth looking into it.
Why does sleep apnea cause excessive sleepiness throughout the day?
Sometimes, people with sleep apnea may think they are getting that coveted full night of sleep because they don’t remember waking up constantly. When you stop breathing during the night, your body activates its backup plan. Your brain wakes you up just enough to remind you to breathe. This completely messes with your sleep cycles, shattering sleep quality.
Don’t ignore the symptoms.
If you’re not having major symptoms like falling asleep at the wheel, it might be tempting to ignore the symptoms you do have. But this can be incredibly dangerous.
Undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk for things like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and glaucoma. It can even increase the likelihood of sudden death due to these (and other) issues.
How is sleep apnea treated?
The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine. This is a sleep appliance that connects to a mask via a hose. This blows pressurized air into your lungs while you sleep.
True, this may not seem like an appealing solution. Sometimes there is a bit of trial and error when it comes to learning to sleep with this new tool, but a new mask might do the trick. Though it isn’t the fix-all option for everyone.
There are other treatment options. If your sleep apnea is mild, sometimes a few changes day to day can help you out. An oral appliance can also be used to reposition your jaw while you sleep, ensuring your airway remains clear. Be sure to talk it through with your doctor to see what treatment options are right for you!
Women are often underdiagnosed.
As with many other things, sleep apnea is underdiagnosed in women. Women tend to have less frequent episodes of sleep apnea. They are also less likely to suffer from loud snoring events throughout the night, and their breathing issues are usually more subtle. All of these things combined make it easier for women to ignore the symptoms.
Don’t let your sleep apnea go untreated.
Whether you are having issues staying awake after a full night’s sleep, or have been prone to snoring, it never hurts to check it out—you might just have sleep apnea. For your own safety, it is better to be safe than sorry. You might be surprised how much better you sleep once you are equipped with the proper tools!
If you are finding yourself falling asleep after what you believe is a full night’s sleep, feel free to contact us to see if sleep apnea treatment might be the solution you’ve been looking for!