SNORERS have been warned that ignoring their problem raises the risk of them dying in a car crash.
Not everyone who snores is aware that they may in fact have a health condition called sleep apnoea.
Sleep apnoea is when a person’s breathing stops for around 10 seconds to a minute while they sleep because their airways are narrowing. This happens repeatedly over the night.
It causes a person to make the occasional gasping or choking sound in the night as well as loud snoring.
Although a person with sleep apnoea is not aware of it, their condition wakes them up repeatedly in the night, causing daytime tiredness.
The NHS says that without treatment, people with the condition have a higher chance of having a serious accident caused by feeling sleepy, such as a car accident.
A new study puts a number on how dangerous such chronic tiredness can be, at least in regard to driving.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis assessed the driving and sleep habits of 96 adults over the age of 65.
During sleep, less than five breathing interruptions per hour is considered normal.
Five to 15 is mild sleep apnoea, 15 to 30 is moderate, and greater than 30 is severe.
After each participant had a sleep apnoea severity score, their driving was monitored for over a year, focusing on episodes of hard braking, sudden acceleration and speeding.
The study found that for every eight additional breathing interruptions per hour, the odds of making a dangerous driving move increase by 27 per cent.
Dr Ganesh Babulal, an assistant professor of neurology and the paper’s co-senior author, said: “We didn’t have cameras in the vehicles, so we don’t know exactly what happened that caused someone to, say, brake hard suddenly.
“But it could be something like a stoplight that they didn’t realise was red until they got close and had to stomp on the brakes.
“The more tired you are, the less attention you have to deploy to the task at hand, especially if it is novel and constantly changing.
“Driving always carries the risk of crashing, and older adults are at risk of more severe injury than younger adults if they experience a crash.
“But we can’t just tell them to give up their keys.
“What we want to understand is what puts them at a higher risk so we can intervene and help them stay behind the wheel, safely, for as long as possible.”
Depending on the severity of a person’s sleep apnoea, they may not need treatment.
But the Washington University researchers said that, in older adults, if their condition worsens, so does their dangerous driving.
What’s more, this trend existed even after taking into account early markers of Alzheimer’s disease in participants.
Brendan Lucey, MD, an associate professor of neurology and co-senior author of the study, said: “These findings suggest that we might want a lower threshold to evaluate older adults for sleep apnoea and track their breathing interruptions.
“If their conditions worsen by just eight interruptions an hour, that could have significant adverse effects on their driving and their risk of suffering serious injury.”
He added that up to half of older adults have mild sleep apnoea.
“But if such adults don’t have daytime sleepiness or other evidence of impairment, they may not come to medical attention,” he warned.
Often a person discovers they have sleep apnoea only because their partner listens to the sounds they make in their sleep.
Various studies have linked sleep apnoea with an early death, high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke and even coronavirus death.
It can also cause a person to feel moody, fatigued and struggling to concentrate in the day time, which can impact their work or relationships.
The main treatment for sleep apnoea, which is highly effective, is using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.
It involves wearing a mask over the mouth and nose during sleep, which blows air into the airways to help keep them open.