By Eugena Brooks
We can talk about the annual financial and societal costs of drowsy driving accidents, but it’s the loss of life that hits hardest. Especially sad are the accidents that are due to untreated sleep apnea and drowsy driving because this is a prevention issue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that every year about 100,000 police-reported crashes involve drowsy driving. These crashes result in more than 1,550 fatalities and 71,000 injuries.
I have sleep apnea. As a result, I have struggled with drowsy driving in the past. My specific diagnosis is obstructive sleep apnea — also known as “OSA.” This type of apnea happens when something blocks part the upper airway while you sleep.
Before I was treated, I would sleep a full night but have a hard time waking in the morning. It became difficult staying awake during concerts, plays even watching TV. Eventually I could not stay awake when doing paperwork on the job.
Even driving back and forth to work became an issue. I lived less than 15 minutes from the office and could not stay awake for the drive. I would have to pull off the road and take a walk only to get sleepy as soon as I got behind the wheel again. I would be in bumper to bumper traffic and would be aware that I was behind the wheel but could not wake up to pull over. I would have to drop my foot to the floorboard to keep the car from moving until a disgruntled driver would blow the horn and wake me up.
Afraid of having an accident, I relocated five blocks from the job so I would not have to commute at all. I began to sleepwalk at night and wake up all over the place. Roll out of bed and wake up just before I would hit the floor just trying to breathe. I rarely smiled and was quick to get angry. Every bit symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness from unchecked OSA.
It is a wonder and a blessing that I am still alive. I am not alone either. I attended my first in-person gathering of the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back before COVID-19, when we still could gather more than 10 people at a time. There, I heard stories from others that suffered as I had. Some not as lucky.
I heard Adam Amdur, Peter Stein, and Brain Delany tell scary stories of their experiences behind the wheel during their struggle with sleep apnea. It is a dangerous situation to your health and in some cases for others around you.
If someone you know is struggling with these symptoms be clear with them and encourage them to get checked. If you are struggling with any of these symptoms run– do not walk– to get tested.
Live long and be well.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration