Safety Risks of Sleep Deprivation and Sleep Disorders For Drivers

Sleepiness is the inability to stay awake when it is expected. Fatigue is a perceived lack of physical or mental energy.  Sleepiness and fatigue both reduce alertness, increasing the potential for impairment of occupational and driving performance.  Sleep deprivation makes it difficult to maintain stable performance over time; as measured by speed, accuracy, hand eye coordination, decision making and memory.  Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders can cause performance and safety risks.  Most sleep disorders such as sleep related breathing disorders (i.e. obstructive sleep apnea) cause fatigue, inattention, and sleepiness (Bonnie & George, 2012).

Drivers with untreated sleep disordered breathing (such as obstructive sleep apnea) perform poorly on several types of driving stimulators and have an automobile crash rate up to six times greater than other drivers.  For patients with severe sleep apnea the incidence of sleep related motor vehicle crashes is nearly twice that of patients with mild or moderate sleep apnea.  Occupational errors are more common among individuals with sleep-related breathing disorders. A study revealed that patients who screened positive for any sleep disorder were more likely to make an administrative error at work, fall asleep while driving, commit an error or safety violation,  exhibit uncontrolled anger, be absent from work and  fall asleep during meetings (Bonnie & George, 2012).

Successful treatment of obstructive sleep apnea improves driving simulator performance and decreases motor vehicle crashes. There was a study that included patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) who were treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).  During the 12 months following the use of CPAP there were fewer motor vehicle crashes and near miss accidents compared to the year prior without CPAP use (Bonnie & George, 2012).


If you are interested in more on the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea: Contact the Sleep Institute of New England at 603-347-8810 or check our website at for an appointment.

The information above is from an article form UpToDate an evidence based resource.


Bonnie, R. J. and George, C. F. (2012). Performance and safety risks of sleep deprivation

and sleep disorders. Retrieved January 24, 2013 from

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