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Untreated Sleep Disorder Can Impair Driving Ability

Last Updated: October 06, 2009.

Untreated obstructive sleep apnea patients are more prone to the effects of alcohol consumption and sleep restriction on driving performance than healthy individuals, according to a study in the Oct. 6 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

TUESDAY, Oct. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients are more prone to the effects of alcohol consumption and sleep restriction on driving performance than healthy individuals, according to a study in the Oct. 6 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Andrew Vakulin, of the University of Adelaide in Australia, and colleagues evaluated a group of 38 subjects with untreated OSA of varying severity and 20 healthy participants. Both groups performed simulated driving under three conditions: an unrestricted night's sleep, four hours of sleep, and administration of low-dose vodka to a blood alcohol level of 0.05 g/dL. Each subject's driving performance was evaluated for crashes, steering deviation, and braking reaction time.

The researchers found that OSA patients crashed more frequently than healthy individuals. In addition, the OSA subjects demonstrated a 40 percent greater increase in steering deviation after sleep restriction and alcohol consumption. There were no significant differences between OSA patients and healthy counterparts in braking reaction time, but OSA individuals did show slower braking reaction time after restricted sleep.

"In conclusion, we have shown that compared with healthy individuals, patients with OSA are more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of low-dose alcohol and one night of moderate sleep restriction on driving performance variables," the authors conclude. "Thus, it may be advisable for untreated patients with diagnosed OSA or persons showing symptoms of OSA to avoid even legal doses of alcohol or sleep restriction before driving or performing other tasks in which safety is a factor."

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