People who experience pauses during sleep could possibly have a life-threatening breathing disorder called sleep apnea. These breathing interruptions can occur up to 400 times a night and last for 10 seconds or more. It is difficult for people to recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea in themselves, so it often goes undiagnosed.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), around 28 percent of commercial truck drivers may have obstructive sleep apnea, which is a scary combination. Around 17 percent have mild sleep apnea, while close to 6 percent have a moderate form and almost 5 percent have severe sleep apnea.
One study noted that drivers with untreated sleep apnea have a higher risk of being involved in a truck accident. The study also indicated that during a series of performance tests, drivers with untreated sleep apnea fared worse than those with higher than legal blood alcohol concentrations for commercial truckers. This research shows that for any commercial drivers with symptoms of sleep apnea, being on the road is a dangerous and potentially fatal situation.
Typical symptoms of sleep apnea are a combination of loud snoring, daytime fatigue, sleeping at odd times, memory difficulties, lack of focus, irritability and morning headaches. While sleep apnea can afflict men or women of any age, people who are overweight, smoke, drink alcohol, have large neck sizes or who are over 40-years-old are at an increased risk. Additionally, people with family members who have sleep apnea are more likely to develop it. After sleep apnea is diagnosed and treated, many commercial drivers can once again take to the road to perform their jobs safely.
For commercial truck drivers who suspect they may have sleep apnea, it is best to visit a qualified state medical examiner for a medical fitness evaluation. Many states have medical requirements for commercial drivers that include sleep apnea as a disqualifying condition when it is moderate to severe and prevents safe driving practices. Drivers with mild to moderate sleep apnea can undergo treatment, however, to requalify for their commercial driving licenses.
It is safer for both commercial truckers and others on the road if those operators with moderate to severe sleep apnea have limited driving privileges.