Scandal tabloid The New York Post is never one to shy away from controversial ideas, and now it’s hoping to generate some new excitement around its claim that sleep apnea is just an excuse that criminals may use to avoid conviction for dangerous crimes.
It led with the story of a man who awoke on a plane and groped a woman’s breasts. It then followed with the story of a man who fell asleep at the wheel, causing his car to jump the curb and crash into a crowd of high-school kids, killing two. In both cases, the accused was acquitted in part because of sleep apnea.
Why Sleep Apnea Can Lead to Criminal Behavior
Sleep apnea is unlikely to make a good defense in a murder case like the 1994 case where a man claims his apnea made him mistake his wife for an intruder (or possibly a deer) before shooting her in the head. But there are some cases where sleep apnea can actually explain the behavior.
In the case of the man sleeping on the plane, apnea is often associated with nightmares and confused awakenings. While it’s unlikely that you would perform a complex action like shoot someone in the head, you might reach out for the pillows you normally sleep with.
And it’s well proven that sleep apnea significantly increases a person’s risk of dozing off behind the wheel and being involved in a car accident.
But Shouldn’t People Know?
The Post tried to make it sound like it was suspicious that a company physical cleared engineer Thomas Gallagher before the fatal crash where he barrelled into the station at twice the speed limit. He claims his apnea made him fall asleep at the time.
But this isn’t unusual. The engineer in the Bronx train derailment was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and low testosterone, but his sleep apnea was missed. Doctors have a great deal of difficulty identifying sleep apnea. In the past it’s largely been because they just weren’t aware of or thinking of the condition, but recently it’s more a product of overlapping symptoms and difficulty of diagnosis that is responsible for sleep apnea being missed.
You Don’t Want to Have to Plead Sleep Apnea
Although The Post makes it sound like sleep apnea is some kind of “Get out of Jail Free” card, the truth is that no one really wants to have to rely on the sleep apnea defense at trial–because it means they’ve been involved in some kind of terrible accident.
Fortunately, treating sleep apnea can help you avoid these types of accidents, but diagnosis is the first step in treatment. If you have the symptoms of sleep apnea, talk to your doctor or a sleep dentist who can refer you to a sleep doctor.