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Driving with open windows, sipping coffee, singing along to the radio, and fidgeting in the driver’s seat may indicate poor sleep and potential sleep apnea, according to a recent study.

Sleep apnea leads to accidents because of fatigue

Individuals with untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) often resort to over three coping strategies while driving to combat drowsiness, according to British researchers. Dr. Akshay Dwarakanath, a respiratory medicine consultant at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, suggests that these strategies may serve as indicators of sleepiness in OSA patients. Sleep apnea involves interrupted breathing during the night, leading to frequent awakenings and loud snoring.

Approximately 20% of road collisions may result from fatigue or sleepiness, with evidence indicating that individuals with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) who drive for personal or professional purposes may face an elevated risk of being involved in such incidents.

In this research, 119 individuals with sleep apnea were examined alongside 105 individuals without the disorder. Both groups were surveyed about their overall sleepiness, drowsiness while driving, methods employed to stay alert, and their past experiences with driving accidents.

Individuals with sleep apnea exhibited a higher tendency to employ measures to stay attentive while driving, according to research findings. Approximately one-third of sleep apnea patients frequently utilized more than three coping strategies, contrasting with those with healthy sleep patterns who did not exceed three strategies.

Different coping strategies to overcome sleepiness and drowsiness

Additionally, sleep apnea patients employing over three strategies reported increased overall sleepiness and drowsiness while driving. Significantly, this group also displayed a substantially higher incidence of crashes, nearly 23%, in comparison to the 2% among sleep apnea patients using fewer coping strategies.

Sleep apnea patients commonly employ various coping strategies, as revealed in a study published on January 17 in the journal ERJ Open Research. Strategies mentioned include opening windows, consuming tea or coffee, increasing radio volume, engaging in singing or self-talk, chewing gum or eating, taking breaks for a walk, nap, or splashing cold water on the face, and incorporating fidgeting or exercise.