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Poor sleep increases car accident risks: Experts

By Liu Zhihua | | Updated: 2014-03-20 17:10

Ahead of World Sleep Day on March 21, the Chinese Sleep Research Society has called on the public to pay more attention to good sleep and seek medical help for sleep disorders, as poor sleep can not only increase health risks but is also associated with a higher incidence of traffic accidents.

About 38 percent of Chinese suffer from sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea (frequent and shallow breaths, or breathing pauses during sleep), while the worldwide prevalence of sleep disorders is only 27 percent, according to the research society.

Studies have shown sleep disorders often underlie physical and mental conditions, among which are depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, and can in turn aggravate those conditions. Moreover, many people have no idea that bad sleep also endangers their lives in a more direct way, causing traffic accidents, according to Han Fang, director of the sleep center at the Peking University People’s Hospital and president of the research society.

"With China’s increasing prosperity, the numbers of vehicles and drivers is also increasing fast," Han said at a sleep and traffic safety conference held by the society earlier this month.

"Drunk drivers are much fewer these days in China, but fatigue and drowsy driving is still an important factor in car accidents."

Studies in many counties, including Britain and the United States, show that fatigue and drowsy driving increases car accident incidence by two to seven times. Statistics from British traffic authorities showed that 27 percent of car accidents in a year were caused by fatigue and drowsy driving, and 8 percent of those accidents led to deaths, Han added.

"Good sleep is as important as safe food, especially when more and more people have private cars," said Wang Weidong, a sleep disorders specialist and deputy director of Guang’anmen Hospital in Beijing.

"Bad sleep at night results in excessive daytime sleepiness, and dozing off during driving can turn drivers into road killers. It is important to seek medical help when people have sleeping problems," Wang said.

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