Sleep Apnea – Silent Killer Behind Drivers Fatigue.

“I never knew it.” Gina Hinkle says over her kitchen table. She is bewildered by the shocking turn of events that almost cost her life, or worse still – almost caused her to take the life of another. The underlying cause behind her unexpected car accident was determined as drivers fatigue, though as someone who regularly slept the recommended 8 hours a night this didn’t add up for her.

Upon driving one uneventful afternoon a few weeks prior, her heavy lids dropped and her head jerked forward in a what is known as a micro-sleep, Gina veered across a median crashing and damaging her vehicle, but luckily not harming any humans involved. She later learned that she was one of the 50-70 million U.S. citizens suffering from a sleep or wakefulness disorder. A deadly combo when paired with driving causing loss of alertness and motor function translating into dangerous drivers fatigue.

Her risk for things like high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and obesity were increased. What she didn’t know was just how much the poor quality of sleep could affect other areas of her life while performing tasks such as driving. When a person behind the wheel is suffering from drivers fatigue they are not fit to be operating a motor vehicle. What makes this difficult to determine is when someone like Gina, who was seemingly sleeping a sufficient amount each night still falls under the category of drivers fatigue due not in part to the duration of sleep – but the quality of it.

Sleep apnea is not something that can be detected during routine visits to the doctor. It was Gina’s husband Paul who eventually shed some light on what sounded a little more serious than snoring one night and urged her to see a specialist. Gina was eventually diagnosed with what is called obstructive sleep apnea – a condition that causes breathing pauses, shallow breathing and often obstructed or collapsed airways during sleep. This condition prevents a person from getting a full and restful sleep, causing insurmountable drivers fatigue.

“When I’m trying to breathe in my sleep – the bit of air that gets through, the Doctor says that’s what causes the snoring.” Gina says of her condition, which can affect anyone. The disorder is found statistically more so in overweight adults, but also in instances of children with enlarged tonsil tissues.

Beyond proper diagnosis and treatment, one third of all Americans still suffer from insufficient sleep – often getting by on less than 7 hours of per night which can mean a staggering amount of people are suffering at any given time from drivers fatigue. Many do not know they suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

All of this translates into a loss of $50 billion dollars each year in productivity, and contributes to the 21 percent of car crash incidents related to drivers fatigue according to a study done by AAA.

Gina now manages her condition long term through lifestyle changes advised by her doctor to live a healthier more active life. Most nights she sleeps with a special mouthpiece breathing device. She checks in regularly with her doctor and may need surgery in the future.

“I’m just glad I know now, and that nobody got hurt.” She says exhaling.

“Its something people should know more about.”