While obstructive sleep apnea is known to contribute to a wide range of long-term health issues, including high blood pressure and heart disease, the intense fatigue that can be caused by this condition is also potentially dangerous.
The lack of quality sleep stemming from sleep apnea can make it all too easy to fall asleep while at work or behind the wheel, greatly increasing the risk for a serious accident. For commercial truckers, whose job requires that they spend long hours on the road, this can pose a significant hazard.
A recent study confirms that many commercial drivers are at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Here’s what you should know.
What Did the Study Say?
In 2020, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducted a study of 20,000 commercial drivers using the STOP-Bang method to determine their potential for obstructive sleep apnea. This method is believed to be the most accurate way to gauge an individual’s risk for this sleep disorder.
Based on their findings, it was determined that roughly 49 percent of commercial drivers could be at risk. This includes both drivers who have already been diagnosed with sleep apnea, while also highlighting the significant potential of drivers on the road who have sleep apnea, but have not been diagnosed.
The STOP-Bang questionnaire focuses on key risk factors:
- Snoring: Those who snore loudly at night (to the point that they disturb their partner) often have obstructive sleep apnea.
- Tired: Excess daytime fatigue or sleepiness that interferes with normal activities — even watching TV or speaking with someone — often results from sleep apnea.
- Observed: A bed partner who observes you choking or gasping during sleep, or experiencing a temporary pause in breathing, is often the first way someone discovers they have sleep apnea.
- Pressure: High blood pressure and sleep apnea have a close relationship. Those with high blood pressure are often more likely to have sleep apnea, and vice versa.
- BMI: Overweight and obese individuals are generally more likely to develop sleep apnea, as the fatty tissues can cause the throat to collapse during sleep.
- Age: As you age, you are more likely to develop sleep apnea. The risk is greatest for those over the age of 50.
- Neck Size: Those with a larger neck circumference (greater than 16 inches around the Adams apple) are more likely to develop sleep apnea.
- Gender: Men are more likely than women to experience obstructive sleep apnea.
As the study findings indicate, many truck drivers meet a fair number of these qualifying risk factors. Answering “yes” to three or more questions indicates intermediate risk, and five or more puts you at high risk.
Long hours on the road, combined with few opportunities for exercise and the unhealthy food that is prevalent at truck stops can greatly increase the likelihood of becoming overweight. This in turn makes drivers far more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
What Commercial Drivers Should Do
While not getting a good night’s rest may not seem like a big deal, it presents serious safety hazards for commercial drivers who spend so much time on the road. If you suspect that you might have obstructive sleep apnea, your first step should be to schedule a sleep study with a sleep specialist.
Most sleep studies entail either an overnight stay at a sleep center, or taking a set of equipment home that will be used to monitor your breathing and heart rate while you sleep. Sleep specialists use the results of these measurements to determine if you have sleep apnea, as well as the severity of your condition.
Sleep apnea severity is defined based on the number of interruptions to breathing you experience during a single hour. Those with severe sleep apnea can experience upwards of 30 sleep interruptions per hour. However, even individuals with mild sleep apnea can experience significant fatigue that interferes with their daily life.
If it is determined that you have sleep apnea, your sleep specialist will write a prescription for a CPAP or BiPAP machine. A CPAP machine provides a steady flow of pressurized air via a face mask and tubing throughout the night. The constant flow of air helps keep your breathing passages open, eliminating sleep apnea episodes so you can get a full night’s rest.
While using a CPAP machine can take some getting used to, many modern devices are well suited to the mobile life of a commercial driver. Travel units offer a more compact size and long battery life between charges, making them an easy addition to your trips. A variety of mask styles and sizes are also available to better fit your face shape, breathing patterns, and comfort preferences.
Get CPAP Support For Safe Driving With Help Medical Supplies
Getting tested for obstructive sleep apnea and receiving a prescription for a CPAP machine can be costly without insurance. Unfortunately, because many commercial drivers operate as independent contractors, they may not have as good of insurance coverage to cover their sleep apnea treatment.
This is where Help Medical Supplies can make a difference. We offer significant discounts on a wide range of CPAP machines and supplies from leading brands like ResMed and Philips Respironics, including money-saving equipment bundles. We also offer free shipping on orders over $89, and available financing can allow you to break your purchase into affordable monthly payments.
As a commercial driver, staying safe on the road has a direct impact on your life and livelihood. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, few investments could have a greater impact on your career longevity than a CPAP machine. Don’t wait if you think you might have sleep apnea! Get the help you need today.