Heavy snorers are up to six times more likely to be involved in a crash

A study by researchers at St. James’ University Hospital in Leeds suggests more than a million Britons could be unaware they are a danger on the roads as a result. These are surprisingly high figures to say that a simple mouthpiece worn at night when sleeping can prevent the problem.

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Erratic driving may be a problem for people with sleep apnea. People with this sleep disorder were found to be more likely to fail simulated driving tests than people without the disorder in the “control” group. Lane deviation, in particular, was a serious problem for those who failed the tests. Sleep apnea is characterized by periods of disrupted breathing throughout the night and this can often lead to daytime sleepiness.

Currently more than one in 30 people suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea but are not even aware of having the the problem as they have no memory of their sleep-depriving snoring and broken breathing. Signs your partner or someone else you know has OSA include loud snoring, noisy and laboured breathing, and repeated short periods where breathing is interrupted by gasping or snorting. With the mouthpiece, correctly termed a Mandibular Advancement Splint, the lower jaw is moved slightly forward to keep the airway open and prevent both snoring and oxygen deprivation.

The findings of the research were presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in London this week, and show that on average, people with untreated OSA are up to six times more likely to be in a road traffic accident than people who do not snore.

The statistics show that you are more likely to have sleep apnea if you are male, over 40 or overweight, but it’s not restricted to men only and the number of women sufferers is growing rapidly due to weight gain.

Having a large neck due to being overweight causes the neck muscles to slacken and block the throat when sleeping. Men with a collar size bigger than 17ins have an increased risk of developing OSA. Having a small lower jaw and smoking also raises the danger.

In the UK any driver who causes an accident by being overtired, can be prosecuted and fined up to £1,000 and this applies to OSA sufferers too.

All the research participants were tested in a driving simulator to work out how potentially risky they are on the roads judging by their standard deviation of lane position. OSA patients nodded much more while driving, admitted to a high chance of sleepiness while driving, were less likely to pass and more likely to fail than people who do not snore heavily or have laboured breathing at night. Lane deviation was significantly worse in the 20 per cent of OSA patients who failed the test completely.

Dr Elliott, the lead researcher said: “Worse lane position deviation is a marker of poor driving performance and this is significantly worse in OSA patients who fail the simulator as compared to the control group.”

The problem is even more dangerous when it occurs with drivers of Public Service Vehicles such as buses, and particularly amongst lorry drivers who of course drive mostly on motorways at higher speeds for longer hours.

Many people ignore the problem in fear of losing their licence, but this is the worst way to deal with it and can have dreadful results. A Mandibular Advancement Splint such as the SleepPro Custom can be bought easily online and does not require a prescription. The Custom is NHS Approved and they are also recommended to many patients with sleep disorders such as snoring or OSA when they visit an NHS Sleep Centre or Specialist.

In the USA the crash risk has been proved to be far higher among truck drivers not adhering to specified sleep apnea treatment. Truck drivers who have obstructive sleep apnea and who do not attempt to adhere to a mandated treatment program have a fivefold increase in the risk of a severe crash, according to a new study co-authored by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute researchers and featured in the March online edition of the journal Sleep.

Drivers not following the sleep apnea treatment administered by the study fleet were discharged or allowed to quit, having been retained only one-third as long as drivers who did adhere to the treatment program. The study observed that 60% of drivers who chose not to accept the mandated sleep apnea treatment quit voluntarily before they were discharged.

It’s surely easier to prevent it with a Mandibular Advancement Splint such as SleepPro Custom. They are incredibly inexpensive compared to others, (£155 * $US 207 • €187 • AUD $270) and because they are made to fit your own dental profile they are extremely comfortable to wear and work fast.

John Redfern