Nearly 49% of Commercial Truck Drivers Might Have Sleep Apnea

Nearly 49% of Commercial Truck Drivers Might Have Sleep ApneaA recent study conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in 2020 found that nearly 49% of commercial truck drivers have or are at risk for sleep apnea. This number is unexpectedly high, especially since earlier studies reported much lower numbers.

Transport Topics reports the earlier studies found that anywhere from 7.2% to 30% of truck drivers either had or were at risk of sleep apnea. However, using a new diagnostic system which is believed to be more accurate than before, these numbers skyrocketed up to the nearly 49% currently being reported.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes breathing to regularly stop and start again throughout the sleep cycle. For someone like a truck driver who has a job that requires them to be awake and alert for long stretches at a time, something like sleep apnea could be problematic and even life-threatening.

A lot of people know that sleep apnea causes snoring, but it is actually something way more serious. Apnea is a critical sleep disorder that causes breathing to frequently start and stop while sleeping. This happens when the muscles that support the throat’s soft tissue, like the tongue and soft palate, relax while sleeping. When the muscles relax, the airway constricts and temporarily cuts off breathing.

The mechanics of sleep apnea snoring and regular snoring are virtually the same, but there are some major differences. Those suffering from sleep apnea tend to snore much louder, stop breathing for about 10 seconds at a time, take shallow breaths, gasp for air, choke, and experience restlessness throughout the night.

There are three different types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and complex. While many have heard of sleep apnea, they may not be aware that there are actually multiple type:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. It occurs when the airways are repeatedly constricted, either partially or fully, during sleep. Because of the constriction, the diaphragm works harder to open up airways, which can cause people’s bodies to unexpectedly jerk or for them to gasp for air. Ultimately, it can lower oxygen levels to vital organs and cause abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Central sleep apnea does not constrict the airways. It actually stems from respiratory diseases and happens when the brain does not tell the muscles that it is time to breathe. It is most commonly diagnosed in people who have suffered from a stroke, heart failure, kidney or lung disease, or currently battle amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • Complex sleep apnea is when a person has both obstructive and central sleep apnea combined.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

The STOP-Bang questionnaire is a solution that helps diagnose sleep apnea in patients. It was developed to be a brief and reliable tool that is easy to use. STOP-Bang is actually an acronym with each letter representing a symptom or risk factor:

S Snoring history

T Tired during the day

O Observed stop breathing while sleeping

P High blood pressure

B BMI above 35 kg/m²

A Age more than 50 years

N Neck circumference

G Gender

Using this system, it is typically found that older people who are overweight are likely to be the most susceptible to sleep apnea. However, these are not the only risk factors. Some say that also consuming alcohol or other depressants increases the risk even further.

Why sleep apnea is so dangerous

If left untreated, sleep apnea could be dangerous for anyone, as it can ultimately lead to heart issues and high blood pressure. However, the risks are even greater for truck drivers. Since this sleeping disorder causes people to stop breathing while asleep, it also causes a major disruption in their sleep cycle—whether they realize it or not.

Even if sleep apnea sufferers are getting a full night’s rest, they may not be getting a good night’s rest. Truck drivers are known for struggling to maintain a consistent sleep cycle, and it often leads to them driving while fatigued. With sleep apnea, this significantly increases.

Being fatigued affects alertness so much that there are over 100,000 reported crashes caused by drowsy driving every year—and 663 of those were fatal crashes in 2020 alone. The National Safety Council (NSC) also reported that fatigue directly affects driving skills to the point that driving 20 hours or more without sleep is equivalent to driving with a 0.08% blood-alcohol concentration.

Can a Chicago truck driver keep their license if they have sleep apnea?

If a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) driver has sleep apnea, they can still be a regular, licensed driver. However, they will need to be treated for their sleep disorder in order to avoid any risks to themselves or others on the road. Under a doctor’s supervision, treatment can include:

  • Self-care. If a major contributing factor is the driver’s weight, maintaining a healthy diet and regularly exercising can help cut excess pounds. However, this tends to be very difficult with a truck driver’s lifestyle. They often do not have access to high-quality and healthy foods while on the road. They also find it difficult to find time for exercise with their long, odd shift schedules.
  • Supportive care. One of the most commonly prescribed devices for treating sleep apnea is with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This machine creates a constant level of pressure that keeps the soft tissue muscles from relaxing too much where it restricts the airways.
  • If all else fails, sometimes surgery is the best option. Removing the tonsils or adenoids can sometimes resolve the issue, but this is not often the doctor’s first choice of treatment.

If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a fatigued truck driver, let the attorneys at Gainsberg Injury and Accident Lawyers work to secure financial compensation for your losses. Suffering an injury in a Chicago truck accident can be devastating, and you may feel like you have nowhere to turn. But our experienced injury attorneys at Gainsberg Injury and Accident Lawyers, can help. Call our office at 312-600-9585, or complete our contact form today. Our consultations are always free.