A vast majority of road accidents result from drivers falling asleep at the wheels. Naturally, the death toll for every undiagnosed OSA syndrome in drivers is directly proportional to the size of the vehicle he drives. Imagine the magnitude of destruction that will result if men at nuclear power plants, dynamite factories and other scientifically tempered industries have this disorder.
It is often customary to say that a patient is in sound sleep if he snores. But snoring sometimes reaches unacceptable decibels, vitiating the serene night ambience, forcing neighbours to shut windowpanes and family members to frown on you.
“Snorers are not good sleepers,” medical researchers have said recently. The global medical fraternity was not fully acquainted with sleep-disordered breathing and sleep studies until the early 1990s. However, for most medical colleges and doctors in the Indian subcontinent, it still remains an alien terminology, for all sleep-related research and infrastructure remain confined to a few corporate hospitals and training in sleep medicine remains well within the precincts of few pharmaceutical majors.
Snoring during sleep may be a sign, or the first alarm, of a dangerous phantom that is lying in the airway and trying to spread its fiery tentacles to the brain and the heart. The phantom is named obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).
What is this OSA? It is a condition where your upper airway (i.e., the pipe that connects your nose to your lungs) gets constricted during sleep, and airflow to the lungs is compromised. As a result, the patient puts an increased effort at breathing, gets agitated and wakes up frequently during sleep. The next day, he feels drowsy and confused, and is unable to concentrate. As the disease progresses, the urge to sleep during daytime while at work becomes irresistible. Gradually, these persons develop high blood pressure, resulting in damage to the brain and the heart.
In most instances, the patients themselves are not aware that the previous night was not peaceful. They regard themselves as good sleepers and sleep anywhere, for example, while in office, at a dinner feast, in a railway reservation queue, while waiting in a bank to deposit cash, etc., leading to a volley of errors — sometimes comical but mostly ending up in tragedies. Morbid obesity is pointed out as the main reason for all these deleterious events.
A vast majority of road accidents result from drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Naturally, the death toll for every undiagnosed OSA syndrome among drivers is directly proportional to the size of the vehicle one drives. Imagine the magnitude of destruction that will result if men at nuclear power plants, dynamite factories and other scientifically tempered industries have this disorder.
Several tragic events have occurred and are happening throughout the globe due to sleep disorders. A U.S. study estimates that roughly one in every 15 Americans is affected by at least a moderate degree of sleep apnoea. Sleep-related accidents comprise 15-20% of all motor vehicle crashes.
But in India we do not have any data relating to sleep apnoeas and related accidents. So it is high time we developed our own sleep labs in medical colleges and make it mandatory for men in high-risk areas to undergo sleep-study.
Medical and surgical management of OSA is really promising, but sadly about 80% of the patients are undiagnosed and untreated.
An appeal to men behind machines, men behind the wheel and those in the midst of scientifically critical junctures: try and find ways to fill your nights with peaceful sleep and help society for safe and secure days ahead.
(The writer is a postgraduate student in Thoracic Medicine, Thanjavur Medical College, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org)