I have written previously about the very sobering statistics on truck drivers and their unusually high propensity to suffer from sleep apnea — commercial vehicle drivers are four to five more times likely to suffer from sleep apnea, and those suffering from untreated sleep apnea are seven times more likely to be involved in a vehicle. But why are drivers of 18 wheelers and big rig more affected?
To answer this question, you must consider the characteristics and symptoms of sleep apnea:
1. 25 or more pounds overweight and a neck size 16 1/2 inches or larger; 2. A body mass index of greater than 29; 3. Regular loud snoring; 4. Excessive daytime drowsiness. Easily falling asleep during the daytime while reading, watching television, sitting or traveling short distances in a vehicle; 5. Restless sleep associated with difficulties breathing or just sleeping less than six hours; 6. High blood pressure and/or heart problems; and 7. Behavioral problems associated with irritability or depression.
Also, males are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than females. One can look at these symptoms, and correlate them to the life of a professional truck driver, and understand why there is a high incidence of sleep apnea among truck drivers. But on the more positive side, sleep apnea is a treatable condition. First it must be diagnosed, and that is usually done by a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders. Often this requires spending the night in a medical sleep clinic, usually a hospital sleep center, where breathing and sleep patterns can be monitored. Once diagnosed, treatment is usually started by the use of a machine that delivers constant flow of air through the nose. This produces continuous positive airway pressure — or CPAP — eliminating upper airway obstructions while the patient is sleeping.
It is our belief the trucking industry should have this issue at the top of its safety agenda. The industry should be screening and treating its drivers for sleep apnea. This type of preventable medicine will save lives on our roads and highways. For those involved in trucking accidents, it is imperative the investigator of the accident consider sleep apnea as a cause of the accident. Sleep apnea leads to accidents. It is up to the trucking industry to help reduce and eliminate this medical condition as a cause of accidents.