Truck drivers as a population have been found to be at a high risk for sleep apnea. A study sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the American Trucking Association (ATA) found that 28% of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common disorder that causes breaks in your breath or shallow breathing while you sleep. These pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. Then normal breathing resumes, sometimes with a telltale snort or choking sound. This can happen up to 30 times or more in an hour.
Symptoms can include:
- Daytime fatigue
- Waking up with a sore, dry throat
- Waking up with a choking sensation
In many ways, the lifestyle of trucking puts drivers at a higher risk for sleep apnea. Many drivers don’t exercise and eat a lot of fast food on the road, and obesity is one of the highest risk factors for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Your regular doctor wouldn’t necessarily uncover the condition in a routine office visit, as a proper diagnosis generally requires a sleep study.
Can It Be Treated?
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition, but it can be treated. Depending on the severity of the problem, symptoms can be reduced through lifestyles changes or more invasive procedures. According to the Mayo Clinic:
“For milder cases of sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend only lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking. If these measures don’t improve your signs and symptoms or if your apnea is moderate to severe, a number of other treatments are available. Certain devices can help open up a blocked airway. In other cases, surgery may be necessary.”
Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to other health problems – and it can lead to accidents while driving. The effect of apnea fatigue on someone who drives for hours at a time is potentially deadly.
The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that one study found drivers with untreated sleep apnea performed worse on a skills test than a driver with blood alcohol above the federal limit.