Many people dismiss consistent feelings of daytime fatigue and drowsiness while driving. Yet these two symptoms can be indicators of serious medical problems, including sleep apnea, and increasing attention is being focused on the dangers they pose to others.

Drowsiness while driving can be a symptom of sleep apnea

The Deadly Effects of Drowsy Driving

Harvard University recently hosted a forum titled “Asleep at the Wheel: Drowsy Driving and Public Health.” Speakers included a sleep medicine expert and the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and it was noted that drowsy driving is a factor in nearly as many accidents and deaths each year as drunk driving.

According to a recent Scientific American article about the forum and the latest data on drowsy driving, about 8 million Americans doze while driving at least once a month (and those are just the ones willing to admit it). Traffic accidents related to drowsy driving kill an average of 6,400 people each year.

If drowsy driving is not yet recognized as a public health hazard, one of the possible underlying causes—sleep apnea—is.

The Dangers of Sleep Apnea

The health risks associated with untreated sleep apnea are well documented and include an increased threat of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke among other problems. As the drowsy driving forum indicated, sleep apnea can also indirectly result in harm to others.

Sleep apnea is characterized by repeated episodes in which breathing stops during sleep, resulting in a lack of restful sleep. The cumulative effects of this include daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and nodding off at inopportune moments (like in meetings or behind the wheel).

As many as 70 million Americans may suffer from sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, according to a recent Washington Post/Consumer Reports feature, but about 40 million don’t receive a proper diagnosis or appropriate treatment.

Seeking Help for Sleep Apnea

Many people don’t view lack of sleep as a medical problem. Likewise, many physicians don’t ask about their patients’ sleep habits.

A dentist who has undergone additional training in dental sleep medicine and sleep apnea treatment can assess whether sleep apnea could be the cause of your symptoms and recommend a sleep doctor or set you up with an at-home sleep test. If you do have sleep apnea, your sleep dentist can recommend an effective therapy. While sleep apnea is not always the cause of recurring daytime fatigue and drowsy driving, it’s a good idea to discuss those symptoms with a knowledgeable doctor, especially if they are accompanied by chronic snoring, abrupt awakenings, and regularly waking with a headache and dry mouth.

Denver sleep apnea dentist Dr. Kevin Berry has helped numerous patients manage their sleep apnea and regain healthy sleep with the use of comfortable oral appliances. Please call the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado today at (303) 691-0267 to schedule your appointment.