In the October 15, 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, a study showed that excessive daytime sleepiness from sleep apnea contributed to excess car crashes—and particularly in untreated men. Overall, untreated sleep apnea patients had a crash rate three times greater than that of the general population.
While the link between sleep apnea and accidents came as no surprise, the results suggested increased sleepiness put people at the highest risk regardless of sleep apnea severity, "underlining the importance of advising such patients, and the community generally, against drowsy driving," the researchers wrote.
Prior studies have shown that the healthy treatment of sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) reduced the risk of car accidents.
"It's not worth the agony of hurting yourself or somebody else because you didn't seek treatment. The treatments work," agreed W. Christopher Winter, MD, in practice at Virginia's Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine.
A few states have enacted legislation against drowsy driving, although it is incredibly difficult to enforce. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine an estimated 20% to 50% of commercial drivers have sleep apnea. That high proportion could be partly due to the fact that long-haul truck drivers are sedentary for a long span of time and contributes to obesity, which is a risk factor for sleep apnea.
The recent legislature that President Obama passed will help to keep truckers and those on the roads around them safer as well.