Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome

Sleep – or lack of it – is thought to play a part in 1 in 5 accidents on motorways and trunk roads

By their very nature, accidents caused by a driver falling asleep at the wheel are 20% more severe due to failure to take any avoiding actions and, for those involved, the results can be devastating. Many of us think that pulling over and taking a break will solve the problem.  However, if drowsiness and a desire to nod off – maybe even briefly blacking out – is a daily occurrence, you could be suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome (OSAS).

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)?

OSA is a condition that affects breathing, due to a partial or total closure of the airway behind the tongue, while you’re sleeping. This:

  • Disrupts your normal breathing pattern
  • Causes your body to briefly wake up to restore normal breathing
  • Prevents you from enjoying a good night’s rest

Having OSA does not usually mean the end of your driving career. The OSA Partnership Group identified that there was an understandable reluctance from those who rely on their driving licence to come forward for treatment and so worked closely with healthcare professionals and the DVLA to try and simplify the process.

As a result, the DVLA clarified the following points:

  • If you are diagnosed with OSA, but does not have excessive sleepiness having, or likely to have, an adverse effect on driving, you may continue to drive as normal and do not need to notify the DVLA.
  • If a driver has sleepiness that does have an adverse effect on driving, and it is suspected that they might have OSA, they should stop driving but do not have to notify the DVLA until the diagnosis has been confirmed.
  • Once a diagnosis of OSA is confirmed, the driver must stop driving and must notify the DVLA. In this case, the OSA group suggests this is done in writing rather than by email or phone.
  • The treatment for OSA is very effective so, providing it is used correctly, it is often the case that by the time the DVLA send through the paperwork to be completed, the driver has already been treated, and the symptoms have resolved. In this case, the DVLA should not revoke their licence.

It is important to understand that the DVLA are only concerned about symptoms that directly and adversely affect driving.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome (OSAS)?

OSAS is a more severe form of OSA. The syndrome occurs when there is evidence of both cessation of breathing when asleep and the symptom of excessive daytime sleepiness. In some cases OSA can be present during sleep, but not be bad enough to lead to daytime sleepiness.

If you suffer from OSAS, the pauses in breathing can happen hundreds of times a night, which most of the time you won’t be aware of. This means you’re getting less of the restorative kind of sleep required to enable you to work with the levels of energy, concentration and productivity needed to drive safely. Apart from the immediate danger of nodding off whilst driving, if left untreated long-term, OSAS increases the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks, and can reduce your life expectancy by 20%. The good news is that the condition is easily treated.

Who Does It Affect?

It’s thought that around 3% of the population are sufferers of OSAS, and the risk increases with age. Those at highest risk (but not exclusively) are:

  • Male
  • Middle-aged
  • Overweight

Due to the sedentary nature of their job, truck drivers are at a higher risk of being affected.

Could You Have OSAS?

Because it occurs when you are asleep, it can be hard to recognise that you’re suffering from this condition. Whilst those with mild OSA are often able to carry on their lives in a normal way, those suffering from OSAS will experience negative effects on their day-to-day lives.

Do You Recognise These Symptoms?

Symptoms will include excessive daytime sleepiness, and may include some or all of the following:

  • Waking feeling un-refreshed despite a night’s sleep
  • Frequent loud snoring
  • Stopping breathing or choking whilst sleeping
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom during the night
  • Waking with a dry mouth/sore throat
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • High blood pressure

What Should I Do If I Think I Have OSAS?

  • Make an appointment to see your GP, mentioning that you think you have OSAS symptoms. He/she will refer you for specialist consultation.
  • If you have excessive daytime sleepiness, you should stop driving temporarily.
  • Inform the DVLA if you are diagnosed with OSAS. It is your legal responsibility to write to the DVLA straight away to notify them, they will issue the relevant paperwork to be completed (Form SL1), and you should notify your employer.
  • Whilst you may have to stop driving for a short period, because there’s a quick and effective remedy, it does not usually mean the end of your driving career. Every case is different, and you will need to follow the advice of your doctor, but there is not usually a problem about returning to work once your doctor is happy that your symptoms are under control.
  • Whatever type of licence you hold, you must stop driving temporarily while displaying symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness until satisfactory control of the symptoms has been achieved, and confirmed by your doctor. If you can’t confirm that excessive drowsiness is under control (rarely the case), your licence will be revoked.
  • The good news is that once you are successfully treated, and this has been confirmed by the sleep clinic, you will be able to resume driving normally.

A Fast & Effective Remedy

1.  Your GP will arrange a sleep study & clinic appointment to confirm your diagnosis. If you are a commercial driver, mention this so that your treatment can be fast-tracked.

2.  If you require treatment you will, most likely, be prescribed a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) mask. Worn during sleep, it keeps the airway open, thus ensuring a healthy restorative night’s sleep.

3.  Driving can resume safely very soon, following confirmation from your doctor that your symptoms are fully under control.

4.  The extra bonus is that you will also be feeling much better with more energy.


Information & Resources

You can do an initial self-assessment by visiting RESMED and follow the link to ‘Patients and Families’, then ‘What is Sleep Apnoea’

For further information about OSA and its treatment, visit:

Other useful information can be found in the ‘Tiredness Can Kill’ leaflet.


About this Resource

This resource page was prepared using information provided by the Sleep Apnoea Trust Association (SATA), DVLA and the OSA Partnership Group. It has been prepared as a guide only and should not be taken as an authoritative document. Driver Hire Group Services Ltd, its associated companies and Franchisees accept no liability for any errors or omissions. If you have any questions about OSA or OSAS, you should refer to the sources of additional information and resources provided and you are strongly advised to seek professional medical advice.