-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
FRIDAY, April 12 (HealthDay News) -- Drivers with the sleep
disorder sleep apnea are more likely to nod off at the wheel and
fail simulated driving tests than motorists without the condition,
new research finds.
Scientists from the University Hospital in Leeds, England,
conducted two studies involving sleep apnea -- a pattern of
disrupted breathing during sleep -- and driving performance.
In one study, they tested the driving ability of 133 patients
with untreated sleep apnea and 89 people without the condition
using a simulated driving test. As they navigated the roughly
56-mile course, the "drivers" were assessed on completion, time
spent in the middle lane, unprovoked crashes and crashes caused by
veering off the road.
Twice as many people with untreated sleep apnea (24 percent)
failed the driving test, compared to 12 percent of those who didn't
have the condition. The researchers noted many of the sleep apnea
patients couldn't complete the test. They also had more crashes and
had difficulty following a clear set of directions given at the
start of the test.
"Driving simulators can be a good way of checking the effects that a condition like sleep apnea can have on driving ability," said the study's chief investigator, Dr. Mark Elliott, in a news release from the European Lung Foundation. "Our research suggests that people with the condition are more likely to fail the test."
The study is scheduled for presentation Friday at a meeting of
the European Respiratory Society and the European Sleep Research in
In another study, 118 people with untreated sleep apnea
completed a survey about their driving behavior and also took the
simulated driving test. Their results were compared to those of 69
people who didn't have sleep apnea.
More than one-third (35 percent) of those with sleep apnea
admitted to nodding off while driving. The researchers noted 38
percent of this group also failed the driving test. In contrast,
only 11 percent of those without sleep apnea admitted falling
asleep while driving. And none of the motorists without sleep apnea
failed the driving test.
Both studies highlight the dangers of untreated sleep apnea and
driving, Dan Smyth, of Sleep Apnea Europe, said in the news
release. "These studies give weight to the need for provision of
sufficient resources for early diagnosis and treatment of sleep
apnea, where effective treatment ensures a return to acceptable
risk levels for road users."
Interrupted sleep at night leads to daytime fatigue, and sleep
apnea has previously been linked to increased risk for car crashes.
People with the condition are also at greater risk for medical
conditions such as high blood pressure.
Data and conclusions presented at meetings typically are
considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides more
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