asleep at the wheel
November 4, 2014

Asleep At The Wheel: Insomnia Increases Risk Of Motor Vehicle Deaths

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

People suffering from the three main symptoms of insomnia are nearly three times more likely to die from a fatal injury sustained in a motor vehicle crash than those without any of those symptoms, claims new research published in the November edition of the journal Sleep.

In the study, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the Department of Internal Medicine at St. Olav’s Hospital in Norway, and the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden set out to examine the link between insomnia symptoms and the risk of fatal unintentional injuries.

The authors looked at 54,399 men and women between the ages of 20 and 89, all of whom had taken part in Norway’s Nord-Trøndelag Health Study between 1995 and 1997, and found that people suffering from all three symptoms of insomnia were 2.8 times more likely to die from a fatal injury than those with no insomnia symptoms, even when the results were adjusted for factors such as alcohol consumption and daily use of sleep medication.

Of the three insomnia symptoms, the authors said that difficulty falling asleep appeared to have the strongest and most robust association with fatal injuries, and that those suffering from this condition were more than two times more likely to die as a result of a motor vehicle injury and over 1.5 times more likely to die from any fatal injury.

Furthermore, the study authors said that self-reported difficulty falling asleep contributed to more than one-third (34 percent) of all motor vehicle deaths, as well as eight percent of all unintentional fatal injuries that could have been prevented had those individuals not been suffering from insomnia.

“The proportion of unintentional fatal injuries cases that could have been prevented in the absence of difficulties initiating sleep, difficulties maintaining sleep, and having a feeling of nonrestorative sleep were 8 percent, 9 percent and 8 percent, respectively,” the study authors wrote. “The corresponding estimates for motor vehicle injuries were 34 percent, 11 percent and 10 percent.”

Overall, the researchers found 277 unintentional fatal injuries, including 169 from falls and 57 from motor vehicle crashes, during a 13-year follow-up period. The research was supported by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the Central Norway Regional Health Authority, the Swedish Council of Working Life and Social Research, and the Swedish Research Council.

“Our results suggest that a large proportion of unintentional fatal injuries and fatal motor vehicle injuries could have been prevented in the absence of insomnia,” lead author Lars Laugsand, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of public health at the Norwegian University of Science in Technology in Trondheim, Norway, said in a recent statement. “Increasing public health awareness about insomnia and identifying and treating people with insomnia may be important in preventing unintentional fatal injuries.”

“Healthy sleep is essential for physical health, mental well-being, and personal and public safety,” added American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, a spokesman for the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project, a US-based initiative to address sleep-health issues such as sleep apnea. “Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, and the promotion of healthy sleep should be a fundamental public health priority.”

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