People who drive with windows down, music blasting may have serious health condition

LEEDS, England — Drivers who roll down their windows, blast the radio, chew gum, or sing might be exhibiting signs of a serious snoring disorder, warns a new study. The research also suggests that excessively consuming tea or coffee to remain awake could indicate the presence of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

It’s estimated that approximately 20 percent of the population suffers from sleep apnea, which can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, increasing the risk of vehicular accidents for those untreated. Yet, the majority of those affected are unaware of their condition. Common symptoms include loud snoring, interrupted breathing during sleep, and frequent awakenings.

“Up to one-fifth of collisions on the road may be caused by fatigue or sleepiness. Many OSA patients drive either for personal or for professional reasons and there is good evidence to suggest that some patients are at increased risk of collisions on the road,”  says Dr. Akshay Dwarakanath from St James’s University Hospital in Leeds, in a media release

The study highlights the importance of recognizing behaviors aimed at maintaining alertness while driving as potential indicators of OSA.

person driving car during daytime
Researchers say winding down the window, drinking tea and coffee, turning the radio up and singing while driving could be signs of obstructive sleep apnea. (Credit: Photo by Johan Funke on Unsplash)

“Obstructive sleep apnea is of high public health relevance due to its high prevalence, symptoms that impair quality of life and potential cardiovascular consequences,” says Dr. Esther Schwarz from the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland. “In addition to choking, fragmented sleep and unrefreshing sleep, possible symptoms include difficulty concentrating, tiredness and a tendency to fall asleep during the day.”

The research involved 119 untreated OSA patients and 105 non-OSA individuals. Participants were surveyed about their general and driving-related sleepiness, alertness strategies while driving, and history of driving incidents, including collisions.

The findings reveal that sleep apnea patients are more likely to employ alertness strategies while driving than their non-OSA counterparts.

Notably, nearly one-third of OSA participants frequently used over three coping strategies, a practice not observed in non-OSA individuals. Researchers also discovered that OSA patients using multiple strategies experienced greater general and driving-related sleepiness and had a higher incidence of crashes.

Common strategies among sleep apnea patients include opening windows, consuming tea or coffee, and increasing the radio volume. Other tactics involved singing or talking to themselves, changing seating positions, chewing gum or eating, taking walking breaks, fidgeting or exercising, resting, and washing their face with cold water.

This study emphasizes the need for healthcare professionals to inquire about such strategies when assessing a patient’s driving fitness.

“Doctors are often asked to make recommendations about their patient’s fitness to drive. This can be challenging as it can have major implications on a patient’s livelihood, particularly if they are a professional driver. However, there is a duty of care on doctors to discourage patients from driving if are at high risk of causing a collision. Our research suggests that untreated OSA patients often use coping strategies that could be surrogate markers of sleepiness,” Dr. Dwarakanath emphasizes. “Asking about these strategies in the clinic may help doctors identifying patients who are at risk of driving incidents and to advise appropriately.”

The study is published in the journal ERJ Open Research.

What To Know About Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea isn’t just about loud snoring, though that’s often a telltale sign. It’s a serious sleep disorder where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night, disrupting your sleep and putting your health at risk. This can be caused by blocked airways (obstructive apnea), faulty brain signals (central apnea), or a combination of both. The consequences range from daytime sleepiness and morning headaches to high blood pressure, heart disease, and even accidents due to drowsiness.

Thankfully, sleep apnea is treatable. The most effective option is usually a CPAP machine, which gently delivers pressurized air to keep your airways open while you sleep. Other options include oral appliances, lifestyle changes like weight loss, and even surgery in some cases.

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, don’t ignore it. Talk to your doctor about getting tested. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve your sleep quality and protect your health in the long run. Remember, getting a good night’s sleep is vital, and treating sleep apnea can open the door to a healthier, happier you.

South West News Service writer Isobel Williams contributed to this report.


Comments

  1. You don’t understand: It’s a “Look at me thing”

    I’m waiting for StudyFinds to showcase another masterful meta-analysis on death rates following the first breath of air.

    “StudyFinds” has determined if anyone breathes air, their will live no longer than 115 years.

  2. On a nice day I love rolling down the windows and cranking up the music.

    Also, not every car I own has air conditioning so on a nice day of course I roll the windows down, then I have to turn up my music to hear it over traffic.

    I think the study if flawed.

  3. I don’t listen to Slipknot at volume 11 because I’m tired… I listen to Slipknot at volume 11 because fawk you, I can!!!

  4. Ridiculous. Everybody knows that people who bast their music with their windows down just want everybody to look at them. It’s for attention. As if everyone else will think they are awesome and their music is awesome. But most of the time, their “music” sucks, and nobody else wants to hear it. Even if it is music other people will like, by blasting it out of car with the bass turned to 11, you just made good music sound horrible.
    People are idiots.

  5. Warning: reading too many dumb articles and believing every study out there carries the risk of making one dumber also. We may need a study for that too, of course.

  6. Hmmm… If it’s a nice day I might just get in my Wrangler, take the top down, doors off, get my Rock and Blues collection, head out to my favorite route out to where I fly r/c aircraft in South Dartmouth, MA…. and crank it up! Nope.. not for people to look at me. The backroads I take do not have traffic at all. Just for me and whoever is riding shotgun. When driving in Providence or another city near me If someone stops beside me and playing annoying music (hip hop and rap is annoying noise to me) I will play something from They Might Be Giants as loud as my 900w Alpine system can go.. either “Instanbul (Not Constantinople)” or “Particle Man”, or “I’m a Paleontologist”)…. or if I really get pissed Frank Sinatra “High Hopes”…(oops there goes another rubber tree plant). At 900 Watts.. funny stuff…

  7. As a sleep specialist who has seen thousands of sleep apnea patients in over 40 years of practice I have had patients who have done all of these things. In addition I had one patient who chewed on lemon rinds to stay awake, another who stuck himself with a safety pin and many who talk on their cell phone. The last one is of course dangerous even if using a hands free method.

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