Researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that sleep apnea treatment could reduce traffic accidents and save lives and billions of dollars each year in the United States. Individuals with sleep apnea stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time, as many as 400 times a night. The poor quality of sleep leads to excessive daytime sleepiness.
Using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to treat sleep apnea could save about 980 lives and $11.1 billion in accident costs annually, the researchers reported in Sleep (May 2004). CPAP requires patients to wear a mask over the nose while they sleep. An air blower connected to the mask forces air through the nasal passages and prevents the throat from collapsing during sleep.
In the study report, the researchers noted that sleep-deprived drivers with obstructive sleep apnea cause ~1400 traffic deaths each year. Of those 1400 fatalities, 980 could have been prevented if the drivers had been treated for their sleep apnea. The researchers based that figure on a 70% success rate using CPAP.