A sound sleep makes a safer driver: SGI

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Al Hattie kept falling asleep at the wheel, and he couldn’t figure out why.

“The first time it happened, over twenty
years ago, I was driving to Cold Lake,
Alberta with some family, pulling our boat,
when I fell asleep at the wheel. I drove,
luckily, into the right ditch. Nobody was
injured, we were just shaken up.”

Years later, it happened again.

“I was travelling on the highway as a claims
adjuster when I fell asleep at the wheel,
drove into the oncoming lane and,
thankfully, woke up when an oncoming
vehicle blasted his horn. I knew I needed to
find out why this was happening,” said
Hattie, a former SGI CANADA broker and
claims adjuster.

Both experiences were a wake-up call and
Hattie talked to his doctor about what had
happened. After being tested, he found out
that he was suffering from a sleep disorder
that causes drowsy driving, called sleep
apnea.

One in five people have this sleep disorder,
and don’t know it. While it sounds like it
simply affects your sleep, it also has an
impact on the waking hours of those who
have it.

Sleep apnea causes pauses in breathing
while the sufferer is asleep. The pauses last from 10 to over 30 seconds, causing a gasp
for breath, sometimes waking the sufferer.
They repeat this in a cycle throughout the
night, interrupting the normal sleep pattern
that ensures a person is rested and able to
function during waking hours. Sufferers
usually snore with pauses in breathing,
have excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue,
depression, lack of concentration and other
symptoms.

Fortunately, sleep apnea is fairly simple to
treat. Al Hattie was provided with a
continuous positive airway pressure
(CPAP) machine which regulated his sleep
breathing, and the changes were
immediate.

“It has made a huge difference, I now get
the full eight hours of sleep I need. I feel
more awake, and can drive for long
distances without the fear of falling asleep
at the wheel.”

“Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders that
cause drowsy driving are a danger on the
road,” said Shannon Ell, SGI’s Manager of
Traffic Safety Promotion.

“Fatigue can impair driving to the point
where it can contribute to a collision. In
2009, driver fatigue and drowsiness related
collisions resulted in 256 injuries and 23
deaths in Saskatchewan.”

There are signs that a driver is getting
drowsy: yawning, daydreaming, inattention,
lane drifting and losing track of where they
are in their journey. When this happens, the
best thing to do is to safely pull over and
switch drivers, take a rest or nap.

Many things can cause drowsy driving,
including not getting enough sleep, shift
work, long-distance travel, medications and
sleep disorders.

Hattie urges anyone who is drowsy during
the daytime, or thinks they might have a
sleep disorder, to get tested. As a sufferer
of sleep apnea and a spokesperson for the
Saskatchewan Lung Association, he knows
how being tested and treated for sleep
apnea can go a long way to preventing a
drowsy driving tragedy.

To find out more about the dangers of
driver fatigue, please visit www.sgi.sk.ca. If
you want to learn more about sleep apnea,
visit www.lung.ca/sleepapnea.

About SGI

Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) is the province’s self-sustaining auto insurance fund. SGI operates 21 claims centres and five salvage centres across Saskatchewan with a head office in Regina. SGI also works with a network of more than 400 motor licence issuers across the province. www.sgi.sk.ca.