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Vacation Traveling? Check the Tires AND the Driver!

Jul 23, 2021
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Before you head out on a long, vacation road trip with your family, make sure your health is in good order! According to the CDC, one of the major causes of fatigued driving includes people who are affected by untreated sleep disorders.

"It's summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime, summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime!!

Now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted in most states and travel is safer again, families are packing up the car and heading on the road to much-needed, relaxing, and fun vacation destinations.

According to the online travel guidance platform Tripadvisor, 67% of Americans plan to travel from June through August, a 17% jump over spring (March to May). Of those, about 43% will choose driving as their mean of transporting their families to their chosen destinations.

Some common items that end up on the “to-do” list when planning a road trip often include packing the luggage, finding a sitter for the family pet, putting a pause on your mail, and getting the car prepped for the long haul.  Your car care checklist probably includes checking the tire treads, tire pressure, brakes, battery, engine fluids, belts, hoses, and wiper blades. 

But there's one VERY IMPORTANT thing to include on your checklist many people ofter forget: CHECK THE HEALTH OF THE DRIVER!

That’s right.  You can prepare your car for the trip and have it in tip-top shape, but if the person who is driving the car is not in “tip-top” shape, you are putting your entire family at risk. 


A new survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that 45% of adults have struggled to stay awake while driving. Driving while drowsy is a serious public health issue, causing an average of 328,000 motor vehicle accidents resulting in 6,400 fatalities, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Fatigued driving can have the same consequences as driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.  The drowsiness is similar to alcohol in how it compromises driving ability by reducing alertness and attentiveness, delaying reaction times, and hindering decision-making skills.

Some of the warning signs include:

  • Frequent yawning or inability to keep your eyes open
  • Catching yourself “nodding off” or having trouble keeping your head up
  • Inability to remember driving the last few miles
  • Missing road signs or driving past your turn
  • Following too close to cars in front of you
  • Drifting into the other lane of traffic
  • Driving onto the “rumble strip” or the shoulder of the road

Unfortunately, drowsy driving can be difficult to identify; some drivers aren’t aware that they have fallen asleep at the wheel even after being asleep for a few minutes. Drowsiness can impair the ability to drive safely, even if the driver does not fall asleep.

According to the CDC’s  Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel”, one of the major causes of fatigued driving includes people who are affected by untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.  When you have sleep apnea, you are constantly going in and out of the initial stages of sleep, never reaching the critical deep sleep stages where your body can fully rest.  Breathing repeatedly stops and starts, often hundreds of times, while you are sleeping.  If you don’t enter these deep sleep stages, you aren’t getting the rest you need to allow your body to fully repair itself.  When you don’t get enough sleep, you will lack energy and feel fatigued, constantly trying to catch up on your sleep.


The good news is that, in many cases, there are steps that you can take to reduce the consequences of sleep apnea. If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, the first thing you will want to do is see a physician (MD or DO) to discuss your symptoms, behavior, and family history.  

It is difficult to treat sleep apnea without understanding the root causes, so your doctor will most likely refer you to a sleep disorder center or sleep medicine specialist. A sleep specialist can help you determine your need for further evaluation, which often involves overnight monitoring at a sleep center or a home sleep test.

If a person is diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the logical treatment is to try to improve sleep habits. A primary care doctor, who is familiar with a patient’s medical history, can often be in the best position to make specific recommendations for solutions.

Some of the common recommendations that you will probably hear are general lifestyle changes such as adjusting your sleeping environment, changing sleep habits, losing weight, or changing your diet to eliminate fatty foods, caffeine, or alcohol.  Other recommendations include quitting smoking, reducing stress, getting more exercise.

Your treatment path depends on your overall health and the severity of your sleep apnea. In cases where an underlying medical condition might be to blame, treating that condition immediately is often the first step. 

Untreated sleep apnea is associated with other serious health conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, weight gain, depression, and erectile dysfunction. But if treated, the positive effects can be profound.  A good night’s sleep can generate many health benefits including:

  1. Strengthen your immune system
  2. Prevent excess weight gain
  3. Lower risk for serious health problems, like Type 2 Diabetes Stroke and Heart Disease
  4. Reduce stress and improve mood
  5. Improve cognitive ability and memory
  6. Better mental health and decreased depression
  7. Lower inflammation
  8. Increase sex drive


A common treatment that is often recommended is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machine. Unfortunately, despite the highly effective treatment CPAP offers, people find it difficult to adhere to it. More than 50% of patients that undergo treatment are unable to tolerate it. 

Today, many doctors focus on recommending a treatment that the patient is more LIKELY to use and work hard to make that choice the most effective.  Now that many insurance companies approve the oral appliance as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea, patients have a choice.    


An oral appliance is a device that works in your mouth during sleep. It resembles an orthodontic appliance or a sports mouthguard, although the technology behind oral appliances is more advanced.  Trays will fit snuggly on upper and lower teeth and they will be connected by some form of attachment. The goal of appliance use is to hold the jaw stable, not allowing it to fall back giving the tongue or other structures a chance to block your airway during sleep.

Oral appliances made by certified sleep dentists are fully adjustable, which is a big advantage over appliances that can be purchased in a pharmacy or online. A custom fit allows the dentist to precisely fit the appliance as well as gain the flexibility to try different settings (jaw positions) until the setting that creates the most benefit is found.

Oral appliance therapy is an effective, non-invasive treatment that fits easily into your lifestyle. Patients like oral appliances because they are:

  • Comfortable and Easy to wear
  • Quiet
  • Portable
  • Easy to care for

    …..and most importantly………

MUCH MORE convenient for when you travel!!

So, this year when you head out on that long-awaited summer vacation, don’t put your family at risk.  Check your tires and check to see why you are TIRED!

At Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine our certified sleep dentists perform a thorough diagnostic exam prior to suggesting oral appliance options. Your practitioner also works with your extended medical team to understand the full scope of your needs.  

When you’re ready, book a one-on-one consultation at Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine. Online scheduling is available, or you’re always welcome to call or stop by the office to check appointment availability.

**Oral Appliances are covered by most medical insurance plans**