Those who snore and suffer from sleep apnea are seven times more likely to get into car accidents than others, today's New England Journal of Medicine reports.
Sleep apnea occurs when the sleeper's throat repeatedly closes and air is temporarily cut off, prompting the sleeper to be jolted awake by the lack of oxygen. It can make people extraordinarily tired during the day.
To gauge the effect of sleep apnea on drivers, a team led by Dr. J. Teran-Santos of the General Yague Hospital in Burgos, Spain, studied 102 drivers who received emergency treatment following traffic accidents between April and December 1995. The accident victims and 152 control patients were screened for sleep problems.
The researchers concluded that "patients with sleep apnea . . . had a greater probability of having a traffic accident than patients without."
Drowsiness plays a role in about half of all U.S. traffic accidents and about 36% of all fatal accidents, a 1988 U.S. National Commission on Sleep Disorders study found.