There is no arguing with the fact that truck drivers have a difficult occupation. Between the constant challenges they find on the road, the hours spent behind the wheel, living out of their truck and even the isolation, it takes a special kind of person to be a trucker. However, adding to the challenges of many is a disorder known as sleep apnea.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Three different types of sleep apnea are possible, all of which disrupt the way people get their rest.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: occurs when airways are blocked during sleep. This is usually due to the tongue collapsing against the soft palate, which in turn collapses against the throat, cutting off the supply of air.
- Central Sleep Apnea: the brain doesn’t signal the muscles to breathe.
- Complex Sleep Apnea: this version is a combination of the two above.
The good news is that when these events occur, the brain rouses the sleeper so that breathing can continue. Unfortunately, this can happen hundreds of times a night, meaning the sufferer goes without quality sleep while stressing their physical system.
Sleep apnea is especially common in truckers. A study done by the University of Pennsylvania found that 28% of truckers suffered from either mild or severe cases. That’s between 2.4 and 3.9 million people.
Fatigue behind the Wheel
The obvious danger sleep apnea represents in truck drivers is that they are fatigued behind the wheel. Truckers are responsible for tons of metal and other materials racing down the highway at high speeds. Few people need to be wide awake more than they do.
Unfortunately, every year, thousands of truckers will cause crashes, many of them fatal. When investigations conclude, fatigue is often found as the reason the trucker crashed. 13% of accidents that involve a semi and another vehicle will have fatigue at its root. For single vehicle crashes, that number goes up to 28%.
With millions of drivers suffering from sleep apnea, it’s clear that this is an affliction that carries serious consequences.
We know that, on average, truckers will live to 61 years, which is a full 16 years younger than the rest of the population. There are a number of reasons for this difference, obesity probably being chief amongst them. As it turns out, obesity is also one of the main causes of sleep apnea. Combining the two, it’s no wonder so many truckers will barely reach retirement age.
Sleep apnea can also be the reason so many truck drivers suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. All rolled together, statistically, truckers have very little chance of maintaining a healthy life.
Although our political parties don’t seem to agree on much, the dangers involved with sleep apnea and trucking were at least serious enough for a bill to be passed on October 15, 2013 that focused on this issue. H.R. 3095, which passed just a month after being introduced, was designed to help the commercial trucking industry screen and test drivers for this affliction.
While this should be seen as largely a good thing, it’s also a way of removing truckers from the industry who pose a threat to themselves or others because of sleep apnea. So if the above dangers aren’t enough to convince a driver to seek help for their apnea, perhaps fear for their job will.
We still have more to learn about how rampant sleep apnea is in the commercial trucking industry. With H.R. 3095 mandating further tests, we could, unfortunately, find out that it’s far worse than we ever thought. However, we already know that sleep apnea is a disorder that puts truckers’ lives—and those of others on the road—in serious danger.
If you believe you have OSA, call a Sleep Rite professional and schedule a consultation.