Can a truck driver’s sleep apnea lead to accidents?

If left untreated, sleep apnea is just one of more than eighty sleep disorders that can be extremely life threatening. The word ‘Apnea’ itself comes from the Greek meaning ‘without breath’, which just glosses over just how threatening this sleep disorder really is. Although it’s a sleep disorder that only affects four percent of the general population, it affects almost thirty-five percent of all truckers. So before we do a deep dive about this life-threatening disorder, let’s give you the facts (and shake a few myths) before we begin.

3 Different Types

There’s three different types of sleep apnea that you should know about. These types are:
  – Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (CSAS) – This type of sleep apnea occurs in the event someone carries both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.
  – Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) – This type of sleep apnea occurs whenever one’s mouth palate and throat muscles relax and collapse during sleep, which blocks the airway.
  – Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) – This type of sleep apnea occurs whenever one’s brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control ones breathing.

An Accidental Risk Factor

For many truckers, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea that affects their ability to remain focused on the wheel and obtain restorative sleep. In the event one’s breathing is frequently interrupted during sleep by the upper airway being blocked periodically for ten to five seconds at a time, the brain is then starved of oxygen – which can lead to heart disease and hypertension.

A significant issue is that Obstructive Sleep Apnea causes sleep to be more fragmented, which makes it difficult to obtain deep sleep (which repairs one’s fatigue) and dream sleep (also referred to as REM sleep, which repairs one’s mental fatigue and handles emotion, memory, and mood).

In the event a truck driver (which has OSA) might be in bed for ten hours, they still get a small amount of good sleep due to the fact that they’re having constant interruption to their breathing patterns. Such a combination of interrupted breathing and sleep fragmentation leads to higher drowsiness, which significantly increases their accident risk to 250% (in comparison to drivers who are well-rested.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

If you feel exhausted after a full night’s sleep, gasp for air as you sleep, or snore loudly, it’s likely you have sleep apnea. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:
  – Dependency on self medication (to help fall asleep or headaches)
  – Depression
  – Poor memory
  – Irritability
  – Attention problems
  – Excessive sleepiness in the daytime
  – Difficulty when trying to sleep
  – Headaches in the morning
  – Diabetes
  – High blood pressure
Symptoms that are more severe include strokes and heart attacks.

Sleep Apnea Treatments

In many cases, a sleeping disorder can be controlled after it has been diagnosed properly once a consultation with a doctor has been performed. So in the event sleeping has become difficult or not feeling well rested after long periods of sleep is an ongoing issue, speaking with a doctor is necessary. Treatments for sleep apnea include:
  – Weight Loss – Weight loss is an incredibly great long term way to treat sleep apnea. As weight begins to fall off of the body, it allows your body to breathe properly as you sleep.
  – Implants – Also referred to as a “sleep apnea pacemaker”, an implant is a device in the chest that detects when breathing closes and corrects it.
  – Surgery – This option is pursued only in the event others have failed.
  – CPAP – A CPAP machine delivers air in your nose and/or mouth as you sleep. It prevents snoring and apnea.
  – MAD – MAD is a custom mouth guard (provided by a dentist) that allows one to breathe properly as they sleep.
  – Tennis Balls – Disrupted breathing results with snoring. If a tennis ball is sown into the back of a shirt and worn to bed, it prevents one from sleeping on their back and snoring.

In consideration of the information above, sleep apnea and truckers is a dangerous (and sometimes fatal) mix. Have you fallen victim to an accident caused by a drowsy truck driver? If so, we’re exactly who you’ll want to call in the event you’ve been involved in an accident with a sleepy trucker. Contact us today so we can help you receive the compensation you deserve!

Author: Brandon Park