Sufferers of the sleep condition sleep apnoea are more likely to experience ‘drowsy driving’ compared to normal sleepers, according to the results of a University Hospital Leeds study that involved simulated driving tests. In the study 133 people with untreated sleep apnoea and 89 people without the condition were put through a 56-mile long driving test, and their performance was assessed in a number of areas.
Nearly a quarter (24%) of the sleep apnoea sufferers were judged to have failed the test, compared to just 12% of the normal sleepers. Worryingly, the failures were down to issues including crashes, along with a basic inability to follow the guidelines delivered at the start of the test. An undisclosed number of sleep apnoea-suffering participants were unable to complete the test, while every one of the normal sleepers managed to finish it.
In general surveying of driving, a massive 35% of sleep apnoea sufferers admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel, compared to 11% without the condition.
"Driving simulators can be a good way of checking the effects that a condition like sleep apnoea can have on driving ability," said the study's chief investigator, Dr Mark Elliott. “Our research suggests that people with the condition are more likely to fail the test."
It stands to reason that the sleep apnoea sufferers would display signs of impaired driving, as the condition effectively reduces the quality of sleep and results in sleep deprivation. The effects of sleep deprivation of a certain degree on driving – specifically reaction times - have been scientifically compared to being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
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