A sound sleep makes a safer driver
Al Hattie kept falling asleep at the wheel, and he couldn't figure out why.
"The first time it happened, over 20 years ago, I was driving to Cold Lake, Alberta with some family, pulling our boat, when I fell asleep at the wheel. I drove, luckily, into the right ditch. Nobody was injured, we were just shaken up."
Years later, it happened again.
"I was travelling on the highway as a claims adjuster when I fell asleep at the wheel, drove into the oncoming lane and, thankfully, woke up when an oncoming vehicle blasted his horn. I knew I needed to find out why this was happening," said Hattie, a former SGI CANADA broker and claims adjuster.
Both experiences were a wake-up call and Hattie talked to his doctor about what had happened. After being tested, he found out that he was suffering from a sleep disorder that causes drowsy driving, called sleep apnea.
One in 5 people have this sleep disorder, and don't know it. While it sounds like it simply affects your sleep, it also has an impact on the waking hours of those who have it.
Sleep apnea causes pauses in breathing while the sufferer is asleep. The pauses last from 10 to over 30 seconds, causing a gasp for breath, sometimes waking the sufferer. They repeat this in a cycle throughout the night, interrupting the normal sleep pattern that ensures a person is rested and able to function during waking hours. Sufferers usually snore with pauses in breathing, have excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, depression, lack of concentration and other symptoms.
Fortunately, sleep apnea is fairly simple to treat. Al Hattie was provided with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine which regulated his sleep breathing, and the changes were immediate.
"It has made a huge difference, I now get the full 8 hours of sleep I need. I feel more awake, and can drive for long distances without the fear of falling asleep at the wheel."
"Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders that cause drowsy driving are a danger on the road," said Shannon Ell, SGI's Manager of Traffic Safety Promotion.
"Fatigue can impair driving to the point where it can contribute to a collision. In 2009, driver fatigue and drowsiness related collisions resulted in 256 injuries and 23 deaths in Saskatchewan."
There are signs that a driver is getting drowsy: yawning, daydreaming, inattention, lane drifting and losing track of where they are in their journey. When this happens, the best thing to do is to safely pull over and switch drivers, take a rest or nap.
Many things can cause drowsy driving, including not getting enough sleep, shift work, long-distance travel, medications and sleep disorders.
Hattie urges anyone who is drowsy during the daytime, or thinks they might have a sleep disorder, to get tested. As a sufferer of sleep apnea and a spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Lung Association, he knows how being tested and treated for sleep apnea can go a long way to preventing a drowsy driving tragedy.
If you want to learn more about sleep apnea, visit www.lung.ca/sleepapnea.