Most people snore at some point during their life, but it can be an indicator of something much more serious. Obstructive sleep apnoea is a disorder in which the upper airway repeatedly closes during sleep causing people to wake up briefly in order to breathe. They may wake many times an hour which leads to tiredness and sleepiness during the day.
Being sleepy all day can be a problem, it certainly is for those who drive for a living - they risk their own and others' lives. Research has shown that someone deprived of sleep has the same impairment in reaction time and judgment as someone who is over the drink-drive limit. One study calculated that people with severe sleep apnoea are between six and 15 times more likely to be involved in a road traffic accident.
The good news is that treatment is easily available, sufferers soon find their lives transformed as they no longer feel constantly tired. They use a continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP. Simply put, it's a mask that is placed over the nose during sleep and blows air into the airways. Sufferers breathe normally, but the slightly higher pressure of air in the nose helps keep the upper airway open.
I came across this issue when a constituent's nephew was killed when a lorry driver fell asleep at the wheel and ran into him. In August 2006, 25-year-old Toby Tweddell set off to work along the M62 near Liverpool, on the way the lorry ploughed into his car. His family later discovered that in the four months from October 2007, at least four cases came before UK courts of drivers of large goods vehicles being accused of causing death by dangerous driving.
Sleep apnoea is a relatively common condition but is poorly diagnosed, leaving road users at risk of injury and death. People who are overweight and have a sedentary life style are much more likely to suffer from the condition. Unsocial hours at work and unhealthy diets don't help.
Many drivers who experience these symptoms tend not to seek help for fear of losing their licence and livelihood. Yet almost all drivers suffering from the condition can be back at work very soon after obtaining effective treatment. The devastating effects of an accident can be avoided if sufferers get help. A simple test can be taken on the British Lung Foundation's website to check if you might be a sufferer or see your doctor for help and advice.
British Lung Foundation test can be found here