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Excessive Sleepiness: Stealing People's Lives

Excessive Sleepiness: Stealing People's Lives
The Launch of the Sleep SOS Report

1 July: Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are failing to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment for excessive sleepiness, with potentially fatal consequences, according to the Sleep SOS Report launched today by the Sleep Alliance. Excessive sleepiness affects approximately 6% of adults, over 3.5 million people in the UK, and is a common, debilitating symptom of many chronic medical conditions.

Untreated excessive sleepiness is a major contributing factor to fatal road accidents, lost productivity and the breakdown of marriages and relationships. Yet in many parts of the UK funding of sleep services is being withdrawn.

Dr John Shneerson, Director of Respiratory Support and Sleep Centre, Papworth Hospital, Cambridgeshire

Just under half of the 380,000 people suffering from a common cause of excessive sleepiness - obstructive sleep apnoea / hypopnoea syndrome (OSAHS) - are unable to access treatment as a result of under-funded local sleep services.

As well as drawing attention to the low priority given to sleep disorders by the NHS, the Sleep SOS Report highlights that the UK's increasingly 24/7 society is guilty of playing down the impact of excessive sleepiness. 'Today's society requires a constant readiness to work and socialise, and as a result people often do not want to admit to having excessive sleepiness or seek help,' said Dr John Shneerson, Director of Respiratory Support and Sleep Centre, Papworth Hospital, Cambridgeshire.

He continued, 'Although excessive sleepiness is a common debilitating symptom of a number of chronic medical conditions, many people who experience sleep-related problems are reluctant to trouble their doctor. Yet trying to live with excessive sleepiness can place livelihoods and relationships at risk, as well as endangering lives.'

Excessive sleepiness is a major contributing factor to road accidents accounting for 20% of motorway crashes, with death tolls estimated to be 50% higher in accidents where the driver is asleep at the wheel compared to other accidents, because they do not swerve or apply their brakes.

The Sleep SOS Report also demonstrates that relationships with friends and family can be damaged by the effects of excessive sleepiness. In a survey commissioned by the Sleep Alliance, over two-thirds of respondents (67%) felt that OSAHS had a negative effect on past and present relationships with half (51%) advising that their partner sleeps / has slept in a separate room.

"For a couple, coping with changes in their sex life can be difficult at the best of times. If one party is constantly being told by their partner that they're simply "too tired" for sex it is very easy for the issue to become a source of misunderstandings, particularly for couples where a case of OSAHS hasn't been diagnosed," said Steve Bagnall, Deputy Chief Executive, Relate.

At work, 43% of patients surveyed felt that the condition affected their performance and they could not pursue promotion / business opportunities as a result of excessive sleepiness. For many, the effects were compounded by the delay in diagnosis and treatment; over a third of respondents waited 10 years or more before consulting their GP after they were told they snored loudly, a common symptom of OSAHS.

"Unfortunately, society as a whole is guilty of trivialising excessive sleepiness as a medical symptom. This is echoed by the low priority placed on local sleep services within the NHS and public awareness of sleep disorders. Yet, relatively small investment is required to treat and manage patients with excessive sleepiness," explained Professor John Stradling, Clinical Director, Sleep Unit, Churchill Hospital, Oxford.

The Sleep Alliance is calling on government and the NHS to allocate resources for sleep services. The group's 'call for action' urges greater recognition of the impact of sleep-related disorders, and the financial resources needed to support an adequate infrastructure for the management of excessive sleepiness.

Full Sleep SOS Report (140k)