Car Accidents and Sleep Apnea: A New Perspective

It's commonly known that if you have obstructive sleep apnea, your risk of getting into a car accident is anywhere from 3 to 10 times normal. But if you don't have sleep apnea, can injuries from a car accident lead to obstructive sleep apnea? In certain situations, yes.


Just yesterday, I saw two patients in a row who came in for various ear, nose and throat complaints, including headache, ear fullness, nasal congestion, sinus pain and pressure. It turns out the both got into major car accidents many months to years ago, and ever since then has not been able to sleep as deeply or efficiently as they normally did. It turns out that both of these women naturally preferred to sleep on their sides or stomach. Both attributed their poor sleep to various neck and back pain. As a result, they ended up sleeping on their backs. 


I talk about how most modern human's jaws are smaller than what they used to be hundreds of years ago, and as a result of dental crowding, the tongue takes up relatively too much space. This makes the tongue more susceptible to falling back and blocking your breathing at night, especially when you're in deep sleep, due to muscle relaxation. Most people with these issues naturally prefer to sleep on their sides or stomachs, but when they are forced to sleep on their backs for whatever reason, their sleep efficiency drops significantly. We know that in many people with severe obstructive sleep apnea, sleeping on their sides can eliminate apneas almost entirely. 


More frequent obstructions and arousals not only cause poor quality sleep, but it also creates a vacuum effect in the throat that suctions up your normal stomach juices into your throat, which can then go into your ears and nose.


This situation applies not only with car accidents, but any type of injury that prevents you from sleeping in your preferred sleep position. I also see it happening during pregnancy, surgical procedures, or sleeping next to a new bed-partner. More recently, women are starting to sleep more on their backs after reading in magazines that they should avoid stomach or side sleeping since it can cause facial wrinkles. Really bad advice. Since back sleeping lessens your sleep quality, you'll develop even more facial wrinkles.


Did you used to sleep on your stomach or your side, but had to switch to your back due to an injury? 

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