The Effects of Limited Sleep and Alcohol on Driving Performance in People With Untreated Sleep Apnea. Ann Intern Med. 2009;151:I-32. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-151-7-200910060-00002
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2009;151(7):I-32.
During sleep, some people stop breathing for short periods, a condition known as sleep apnea. This partly awakens them and prevents normal, restful sleep. Many people with sleep apnea have trouble concentrating and are sleepy during the day. These symptoms can be troublesome, or even dangerous (if, for example, the affected person falls asleep while driving). The usual treatment for sleep apnea involves wearing a mask during sleep that uses air pressure to keep the breathing passages open; this treatment is called continuous positive airway pressure.
To compare driving performance in people with untreated sleep apnea with performance in healthy people and to see whether the negative effects of limited sleep and alcohol on driving performance are worse in people with untreated sleep apnea.
38 people with untreated sleep apnea and 20 healthy people.
The researchers evaluated driving performance in people with untreated sleep apnea and healthy control participants under 3 conditions: unrestricted sleep, only 4 hours of sleep, and consumption of alcohol. Instead of using real cars on real roads, the researchers used computerized driving simulators. The simulators tracked steering, speed control, and other measures of driving performance that have been linked to car crashes.
Compared with healthy people, people with untreated sleep apnea had worse simulated driving performance. In addition, the negative effects on driving performance of limited sleep and alcohol were greater in people with untreated sleep apnea than in healthy people.
This study did not use real cars on real roads. It also did not study whether the driving performance and the negative effects of sleep restriction and alcohol improved when sleep apnea was treated.
It is unsafe for anyone to drive while sleepy or after drinking alcohol. However, doctors should alert patients about the potential negative influence of untreated sleep apnea on driving performance and that the negative effects of limited sleep or drinking alcohol may be greater in people with untreated sleep apnea than in healthy people.
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Pulmonary/Critical Care, Sleep Disorders.
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