Drowsy Driving – What’s the Harm?

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November 4, 2010

A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that drowsy driving is responsible for about one in eight deadly crashes, one in ten crashes resulting in occupant hospitalization, and one in twenty crashes in which a vehicle was towed. During Drowsy Driving Prevention Week – November 8-14 – Catholic Health’s SleepCare Sleep Centers remind you of the dangers of sleep impaired driving.

If you find yourself dozing off behind the wheel, tired all of the time, or having trouble concentrating, you may suffer from a sleep disorder. Catholic Health’s “dream team” at SleepCare, the Sleep Centers located at Kenmore Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital, St Joseph Campus, can help you get a good night’s sleep by offering the most advanced sleep testing services for the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of sleep disorders.

While most people are aware of the dangers of driving while intoxicated, many do not know that drowsiness impairs judgment, performance, and reaction times just like alcohol and drugs. Studies show that not having sleep for more than 20 hours results in impairment equal to a blood alcohol level of 0.08, the legal limit in all states.

About 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea (pauses in breathing during sleep), with an additional 20 - 30 million affected by intermittent sleep-related problems.

Today’s economy also has exacerbated a condition called “Job-Related Sleep Restriction,” when people work more and sleep less. Respondents to the New York State survey who reported drowsy-driving incidents cited a variety of reasons related to work patterns, including working more than one job, working extended shifts, and sleeping less and devoting more time to work related activities.

“It’s shocking so many people admit they frequently drive in an incapacitated state,” said Alexander Gelfer, MD, board-certified sleep specialist and medical director of the hospitals’ sleep centers. “The good news is fatigue-related crashes are preventable. The bad news is there is a knowledge and awareness gap about the dangers of driving when you’re too sleepy. Many people think they can will themselves to stay awake no matter how tired they are, but science shows us that simply isn’t true.”

According to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders, an overwhelming majority of sleep disorders remain undiagnosed and untreated. SleepCare specializes in sleep testing (polysomnography) to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep-related disorders. Patients undergoing a sleep study spend a night in the SleepCare Sleep Center, which looks like a typical hotel room.

A study done at St. Joseph Campus Sleep Center and presented at a National Sleep Conference demonstrated that snoring has a negative health and social impact not only on snorers but also on their bed partners and should be aggressively treated.

Through painless, non-invasive sensors placed on various parts of the body, technicians can record sleep patterns and other medical data, while patients’ sleep, to allow physicians to identify abnormal sleep conditions. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment options can range from the mild assistive devices like nasal strips and sophisticated oral appliances, to surgical procedures to open the airway during sleep.

SleepCare is working with the National Sleep Foundation to increase awareness of the importance of getting a good night’s sleep.

Catholic Health offers sleep testing services at Kenmore Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital, St Joseph Campus, under the direction of Dr. Gelfer, and at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo.

To make an appointment, call Catholic Health’s HealthConnection at 706-2112 for the location nearest you.