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A driver carrying equipment for Carrie Underwood’s Play tour was killed Saturday morning when his truck crashed on Interstate 95 just outside Stonington, Conn.  Police reports indicate that the truck was traveling at a high rate of speed but there were no skid marks on the pavement to indicate that the driver had tried to stop before running off the road.

The questions must be asked:  did he have sleep apnea?  Was he a drowsy driver?  The pattern described in reports to date are consistent with what is often seen in such accidents.  If post-mortem tests do not show any sort of impairment, either medical or drug-related, what would cause a professional driver to lose control and die a fiery death without even trying to stop or regain control?

This was obviously a personal loss for Ms. Underwood, who gave a teary salute to the driver in her concert Saturday night (see below).  To the driver’s family and to Ms. Underwood and her road crew, we offer our deepest condolences.  To everybody, we urge you to recognize the need to get sufficient sleep and, if you have symptoms of sleep apnea – such as snoring at night and exhaustion during the day – get tested before you or someone else on the road dies.

Click here to see a news report of the accident and Ms. Underwood’s tribute.

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Have you been told that you might have sleep apnea and are wondering whether or not it’s worth the time and expense to find out?  Here are some important reasons why you should:

  1. Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause death.  38,000 Americans die every year of complications due to sleep apnea.
  2. Sleep apnea can cause or exacerbate cardiovascular disease.
  3. Sleep apnea can cause or exacerbate diabetes.
  4. Sleep apnea can cause or exacerbate high blood pressure.
  5. Sleep apnea can cause stroke.
  6. Sleep apnea can cause or exacerbate asthma.
  7. Sleep apnea can cause or exacerbate depression.
  8. Sleep apnea’s loud snoring and choking/gasping for air at night can damage and even ruin relationships.
  9. Sleep apnea can make you so exhausted that you can’t perform at work.
  10. Sleep apnea can cause extremely dangerous drowsy driving.
  11. And if that’s not enough, sleep apnea can cause or exacerbate erectile dysfunction.

Add to all of that the fact that sleep apnea sufferers experience frequent morning headaches and frequently nocturnal urination, and you’ve got a whole host of reasons to consider sleep apnea as something you don’t want to let go untreated.

And here’s another reason:  most cases of sleep apnea can be treated rather easily and effectively!

You’re rushing about wildly, trying to get the shopping done, get to the relatives’ house, trying to jam extra hours into the day, maybe even partying late on week nights.

‘Tis the season … for dangerous drowsy driving.

The roads filling up with college students returning home (often after all-nighters studying for finals), families on the road to visit relatives and friends.  Early morning shopping deals and days that begin and end in the dark all contribute to reduced sleep time and impaired wakefulness.  Add sleep apnea to that mix, and there is strong likelihood that you will encounter or become one of the  drowsy drivers on the road.

Driving simulation studies show that when drivers have been awake for 19 hours, they drive as poorly as when they have a blood alcohol level of 0.10, which is above the legal limit in most states.  If you pull an “all nighter” and then drive, it’s equivalent to driving drunk.   When sleep apnea is also present:  people with untreated mild to moderate sleep apnea, alone, perform worse behind the wheel than people with blood alcohol level of 0.06.

The National Traffic Safety Administration says there are 100,000 crashes per year due to fatigue and sleepiness each year.  And 1,550 deaths.

On average, it takes as little as two seconds of dozing at the wheel to cause you to inadvertently change lanes, swerve into oncoming traffic, or run off the road.

Most drivers do not realize that they are too sleepy and over-estimate their vigilance.  The most common warning signs are:

  • Trouble focusing
  • Frequent yawning and rubbing of eyes
  • Daydreaming and wandering thoughts instead of concentrating fully on the road
  • Drifting in your lane
  • Not remembering the last couple of miles

What to do if you notice ANY of these warning signs:

  • Pull over … call the people you are driving to visit and take a nap in a motel
  • If there is another person in the car with you, switch drivers
  • Don’t be macho … recognize that your warning signs can be the precursor to an accident … often not only involving you and the people in your car, but pedestrians and people in other cards.

What to do if you suspect sleep apnea:   take our free online sleep apnea risk assessment test at www.sleepwellandlive.com .

Don’t hesitate to contact your local sleep center and get evaluated.   Lives may well hang in the balance.

More than 500 people died on Wisconsin roads last year.

“Some deaths were caused by speeding while others were a result of drunk driving, or not wearing a seat belt. Tragically, these deaths affect many lives and cause great pain to thousands of people throughout the state. Fortunately, you can help change that number.”  So says the State of Wisconsin’s very well-intentioned web site.

But, in a very clear error, either of omission or of understanding, the State runs a television spot frequently about not wearing one’s seat belt.  Again, a very noble thought.  However, as you will be able to see from the advertisement that is called “Reality – Seat Belt,” they have missed a truly significant, even life saving point.  Take a look at it and see if you can figure out what it is …  www.zeroinwisconsin.gov/mediaspots.html

The driver in the spot is not only not wearing a seat belt … he is asleep at the wheel.  He is, as too many people fail to realize, one of those ticking time bombs waiting to go off on our roads … the drowsy driver.

Taking a look at his thick neck and overweight body frame, it is likely that this driver has obstructive sleep apnea, which is just as likely to take his life … and the lives of others on the road … as not wearing his seatbelt or driving drunk.

One can only hope that the State of Wisconsin … and ALL states … will get the idea soon that drowsy drivers are a MAJOR threat to the health and lives of all people on the roads.

Steve Gardner

The Sleep Wellness Institute