Page last updated at 13:14 GMT, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Scrubbing Up: sleeping killers

In this week's Scrubbing Up, Professor Tony Leeds warns that our roads are less safe because an obesity epidemic is leading more drivers to fall asleep at the wheel.

As well as facing an increased risk of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, many obese people are prone to obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

What do you think? Here are some of the comments you have been sending in to this week's Scrubbing Up.


People need to be made aware that the diagnosis and treatment of OSA is quick, completely painless and magically effective. My life was being ruined by massive sleep deprivation until diagnosed but it took less than a week for me to notice a difference once treated and my life has been revolutionised since. If in any doubt you should speak to your GP today.
Lert, Birmingham

As an ex-lorry driver for 30 years, I can assure you a sleep warning will not work for many. The modern day truck driver is under too much pressure to meet deadlines and with the delays caused by more traffic on the roads, vehicles parked in front of shop delivery bays, new laws etc, the driver is under too much pressure to rest when sleep is needed. It's a case of grab the food while you can, put the tacho on break mode while unloading and hope you don't lose your job for fear of not being at the delivery point on time. This industry has already ruined my health, thank goodness I'm now out of it, albeit with permanent damage to hips and lower spine.
Rob Denton, Retford, Notts

Until diagnosed it's impossible for a sufferer of OSA to know their sleep is of the wrong type and quality. Even those around you cannot see or fully appreciate your problem. I used to regularly drive back to Wales with wife and four children sound asleep as I drifted off. It took a 'panic attack' caused by me holding my breath too long before I was diagnosed after being rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack. Four years later I only now realise how much my life had been affected and how my general demeanour had changed so much as a result of the sleep deprivation.
Malcolm, Corwen, Wales

I was diagnosed with sleep apnoea several years ago and was given a CPAP machine. This apparatus blows air into the mouth and effectively stops snoring and thus enables me to get 'quality sleep'. It is life changing. Prior to the treatment I was miserable, lacking energy and enthusiasm. I was constantly tired and would regularly fall asleep at work. Long distance driving was indeed an ordeal. On one occasion I know that I dozed off briefly on the M6. I am here to tell the tale but also to recommend anyone with sleep apnoea to seek treatment - it really is possible to get your life back.
Jim Jolley, Liverpool

If we really want to improve our road safety records here in the UK, we must seriously consider frequent driver rest zones on our motorways, the banning of ALL non essential left hand drive vehicles and a serious review of the monotonous effect of the introduction of the 56mph maximum speed on commercial vehicles.
Cedric Thrupp, Birmingham, West Midlands

I often drive round-trip distances of about 2,000 miles. This can be very tiring, and it's difficult to give enough attention to your driving if you're tired. I have a routine to keep aware of my state of tiredness - I do mental arithmetic as I'm driving. If I find that the calculations are becoming slower and less accurate I know that I'm getting tired and need a break. All I need then is a place to stop. French motorways are much better than those in England in this respect as they have many more places to stop for a rest and the places are better designed.
G.W. Haywood, Alfreton, England

I have a friend who sells goods to football clubs, which requires regular travel up and down the country. He was diagnosed with sleep apnoea 4 years back. Today his business is successful and he is able to travel the many miles to support his sales. He had made the effort to pick up the phone to the doctor, went and listened to the advice, and made a change. His healthy weight today means he is able to continue to run his business.
Gary, Wirral, Merseyside

Fifteen years ago I was overweight, and I snored for England. I discovered that, especially driving on motorways, I was horribly dozy, and would in fact nod off for tiny fractions of a second and wake with a start. There was nothing I could do to stop it. It was frightening and clearly dangerous. I went to see my GP, who referred me to the Sleep Unit at Charing Cross hospital. They gave me a 24 hour test, during which I wore a harness and a small recorder. I went back to debrief, during which the chap said that I had apnoea all right. He said I should sleep with a Continuous Pressure Air Pump (CPAP). The new ones are very comfortable, and the pump is quiet - an awful lot quieter than my snoring.
Peter Ceresole, London

I worked as a shift worker with a rotating shift pattern for many years. Most of the time I was driving or in the office. I was often falling asleep on the way home or sometimes even whilst working. I often really scared myself and it's probably only because I was driving on relatively empty roads that I didn't kill myself or someone else. I put this down simply to the effect of the shifts. Then I found a new partner and she was much less tolerant of my snoring than my ex. I was kicked out of bed and had to sleep on the sofa. This motivated me to get my snoring sorted out and I took a sleep study. I found that I was suffering from over 60 apnoeas per hour and as a direct result I was sleep deprived. I've been on a CPAP machine for over a year now and my quality of life has improved dramatically. Oh yes - I'm no longer on the sofa either!
The Sleeping Policeman, Slough

Back in 2005 I experienced a number of instances of "falling asleep at the wheel". Fortunately for me, I had an excellent GP who immediately diagnosed sleep apnoea and I was quickly and efficiently treated by the NHS. My GP also referred me to a local gym, where I undertook 13 weeks of regular workouts - which helped me to lose weight.
Keith Bolton, Lewes

Interesting story, although I believe road safety would be increased more by better driving education as there are plenty of just plain terrible drivers around who are more likely to cause crashes whether they're obese or not!
Mark, Jersey

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