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Thread: Falling Asleep At The Wheel

  1. #1
    Senior Member dnvrdave's Avatar
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    Falling Asleep At The Wheel

    For the past 8 years or so, I've had a problem nodding off when I drive (my van, not my wheelchair). I, of course, figured out to pull over and take a nap before crashing, but I've had lots of close calls. It happens in the morning on my way to work as well as on my way home in the afternoon (not at night).

    I know this happens to lots of other drivers, but I wonder if there is a higher occurrence in SCI folks. Do any of you experience it?

    I don't know the cause. It's not related to how rested I am or whether I take caffeine or sugar, which I usually don't.

    My latest theory is that it is somehow related to wearing a chest belt and a possible lack of oxygen. It starts about 15-20 minutes into my drive. I drive from the wheelchair, and only need a chest belt for driving.

    When I pull over, I always sleep for 1-10 minutes and then feel completely rejuvenated, and I'm good for the rest of the trip.

    As an aside, I also feel very tired at work right after lunch for about two hours. I've had my blood sugar checked, but it is fine. If I can get a 10 minute nap at work during that time, it energizes me for the rest of the day, including the drive home. But in my new job, a nap is not possible now.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Scorpion's Avatar
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    This used to happen to me on my way home from work when I had an hour long commute each way. There was a lookout spot half-way home so I started taking a 5-10 minute catnap there and that stopped it.

    It's scary and very dangerous, so maybe you could plan a catnap whether you're feeling sleepy or not? Do you think you're getting enough sleep at night? Maybe you can loosen the chest strap a bit? I got rid of mine but you may not feel comfortable doing that. I think it also helps to keep your eyes moving and don't get too zoned-out by the road as you drive, and don't keep it too warm inside your van.

  3. #3
    Sounds like Sleep Apnea bigtime. Are you waking up for just a few seconds thru the night, snore, nod off every chance you get without notice? If so it sounds like Sleep Apnea.

    I did that and nodded off going around a corner a 100 yards from my house> Drove into a ditch. Thousands of dollars of damage to my van but thankfully, I just rolled up my window or My head would have been crushed sliding along the wall of the ditch. I couldn't figure out why I kept driving on the left side of the road going home. There was nothing I could do to stay awake. I just remember going around the corner and the next thing my van was rattling down the sidewall of the ditch stopping about 2 feet from a telephone pole.

    I had a sleep disorder test and was rx'd a bipap machine. I get a full nights sleep a feel refreshed in the morning. My wife also gets a good nights sleep as I don't wake her with my loud snoring and my stopping to breath then gasping for a breathe.

    Get checked out before you check out from falling asleep at the wheel.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Scorpion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Madsen View Post
    Sounds like Sleep Apnea bigtime. Are you waking up for just a few seconds thru the night, snore, nod off every chance you get without notice? If so it sounds like Sleep Apnea.
    Oh yeah, I was going to ask if he might have sleep apnea, but forgot. It does seem like a possibility since he mentions nodding off throughout the day, even early in the day.

  5. #5
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    I used to have times where I would nod off while running heavy equipment! I never fell asleep but when you nod off on a unmuffled machine somethings wrong.
    I think it was doing repeated tasks that caused it for me, like moving this pile of dirt across the lot to the other dirt pile.
    I wear a chest strap and if your putting it on so tight that you think its causeing your lungs not to expand then you are putting it on way to tight! You should be able to fit 2 fingers under it is what I was told.
    I have seen alarms like this for sale, http://www.sav-a-life.com/Doze_intro.htm Doesn't really fix your problem but it might make driving safer for you and others. Have you been checked for sleep apnea? I have heard that it can cause faigue because you don't get proper sleep.
    Hope you figure out the cause, waking up in the other lane is no fun.
    Last edited by Sh1wn; 04-27-2011 at 02:05 AM. Reason: Beaten
    c3/c4, injured 2007

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Madsen View Post
    Sounds like Sleep Apnea bigtime. Are you waking up for just a few seconds thru the night, snore, nod off every chance you get without notice? If so it sounds like Sleep Apnea.

    I had a sleep disorder test and was rx'd a bipap machine. I get a full nights sleep a feel refreshed in the morning. My wife also gets a good nights sleep as I don't wake her with my loud snoring and my stopping to breath then gasping for a breathe.
    Thanks, Patrick, for writing what I was going to say. There are some people who have primary narcolepsy but DnverDave, you need to get a 'sleep study'. That will give you an answer.

    Let us know what they find if you can......

    good luck,
    arndog

  7. #7
    DnvrDv, what's your route again, and when do you go in / leave, I'll be sure to take an alternative way home..

    All kidding aside, it does sound like sleep apnea symptoms. Are you having trouble remembering the drive to/from work? Gaps in memory? My brother had similar issues, got checked out and has been using the c/bi-pap machine for years.

    Good luck curing it, stay off the sidewalks...


    Onward & Upward,

    Chris

  8. #8
    Senior Member dnvrdave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Chappell View Post
    .. it does sound like sleep apnea symptoms. Are you having trouble remembering the drive to/from work? Gaps in memory? My brother had similar issues, got checked out and has been using the c/bi-pap machine for years.
    I get a physical every year in September, and my doctor planned to test me for sleep apnea the past two years, but we both spaced it out (maybe sleep apnea makes him forget too!). So I will quit procrastinating on that, and let you know.

    The last couple times I was napping in my van (with the w/c tilted back), I woke up snoring, so there's one more clue!

    My doctor also recommended a humidifier, because I have a chronic sinus infection (and refuse to use NeilMed, neti-pot for sinus flush because I think it caused the infection twice). I started using a humidifier last month at night, and I usually wake up feeling more rested and breathing more freely, but it apparently is not enough to cure sleep apnea or road hypnosis or whatever is happening.

    I was thinking that breathing is overrated, but I may have to rethink that.

  9. #9
    Everyone is right about the sleep apnea. Many cpap units also include a built in humidifier.

    Also if you are driving an older vehicle and you don't keep the maintenance up on your exhaust system then you could have exhaust fumes getting into your passenger compartment. This is highly unlikely but happened to me when I was an AB teenager driving an old unmaintained car. I nodded off almost every single time I got behind the wheel when the windows were rolled up.
    Last edited by Patton57; 04-27-2011 at 11:45 AM.

  10. #10
    HI,
    Agree with the sleep apnea eval and having your car checked.
    Another possible culprit is sleepiness related to medications. Many sCI meds can cause drowsiness. If this is a recent problem, have you changed meds or dosages?

    It is common to be sleepy after meals and some people (like me) are very sensitive to high carbohydrate meals (sweets and pastas,etc) and I feel very sleepy when I eat those foods.
    Keep us posted. You want to check this out before something dangerous happens to you.

    AAD

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