According to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Christopher Hart in a 2016 press conference
, "Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. And even if diagnosed, it often goes unreported for fear of adverse consequences such as job loss. But sleep apnea is treatable. Employers with sleep apnea programs find that when people seek treatment they become safer drivers, their morale improves, the cost training new drivers decreases and productivity increases. In other words, it's a win-win.
An impairing medical condition can be every bit as lethal as an impairing drug, and the public should not be subjected to risk from either."
What is sleep apnea?
The topic of sleep apnea is often discussed in the trucking community – primarily because the rate of occurrence is likely more than 20% among truck drivers, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
. By definition, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing stops over and over during sleep. The disease is most common in the form of central sleep apnea, which is when the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing, causing pauses in breath and loud snores during sleep.
In addition to central sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea
also affects people, though less often. When both conditions are present, the disease is referred to as complex sleep apnea.
What are the symptoms?
- Disrupted breathing during sleep
- Loud snoring
- Restless sleep
- Waking abruptly, often accompanied by shortness of breath
- Daytime headaches
- Waking with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty maintaining attention
Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- Excess weight
- Neck circumference of 17" or more in men; 15" or more in women
- Narrow airway
- Nasal congestion
- Family history of sleep apnea
- Most prevalent in older males
Source: Mayo Clinic
If you believe you may be at risk for, or have developed sleep apnea, see a physician immediately. If you find it difficult to visit a doctor in person, a telemedicine consultation may be helpful.
Why treat the disease?
There are many reasons for anybody with sleep apnea to get treatment. However, obtaining treatment is imperative for truckers due to the disease's effect on wakefulness and alertness. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association
(FMCSA), "studies show that those with untreated sleep apnea have an increased risk of being involved in a fatigue-related motor vehicle crash." In fact, a study conducted by Schneider National
involving over 1,600 company-employed drivers revealed that the rate of preventable crashes among those who did not adhere to the company's treatment program were five times higher than those who participated in the treatment program.
In short, sleep apnea affects your ability to sleep restfully, further increasing the potential for drowsy driving. The consequences of drowsy driving are huge; one recent report
showed that drivers who sleep for only five to six hours within a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash versus drivers who have slept at least seven hours.
Can you still be a trucker if you have sleep apnea?
The FMCSA does not specifically restrict drivers with sleep apnea from holding an active CDL. However, per its medical fitness rules, the FMCSA does not allow a person whose medical condition prevents them from driving safely to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce. CMV drivers can be disqualified by a DOT Medical Examiner if that medical professional believes the condition is severe enough to interfere with the driver's ability to safely operate a CMV.
Each state sets its own medical standards for intrastate drivers. Check with your Department of Motor Vehicles to learn which qualifications you must meet for intrastate trucking.
Once successfully treated, a driver can regain their "medically-qualified-to-drive" status. So, not only is it important to your personal well-being to treat sleep apnea, but it can also affect your paycheck. Read the FMCSA's sleep apnea details here
Trucking jobs require drivers to be focused and attentive on and off the road. For more information and statistics about sleep apnea, visit the National Institutes of Health website
The information provided above is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.