Sleep Apnea: What Commercial Drivers Need to Know
Posted: October 23, 2020
Sleep apnea (S.A.) is a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing or breathe shallowly for seconds or minutes during sleep. These breathing interruptions can occur even up to 400 times or more per night. This can cause symptoms and other serious health conditions, like heart disease, that affect your ability to drive safely. Many commercial drivers may be at risk for having this condition, which can impact your driving and may increase your risk for dangerous accidents. Therefore, many organizations are starting to require screening and testing for their commercial drivers. There are several things commercial drivers need to know about sleep apnea and its effects.
Sleep Apnea in Commercial Drivers
A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania estimates that approximately one-third of all commercial drivers in the United States have S.A. That’s nearly 3.9 million commercial drivers who may have this sleep disorder. Untreated sleep apnea can cause you to feel tired and fatigued during the day and may affect your ability to concentrate on the road. This sleep disorder can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which may make it hard to stay awake, focus your eyes, or react quickly while driving. In fact, the American Sleep Association estimates that 7-20% of all large truck crashes occur due to drowsy driving. Commercial drivers with untreated S.A. are five times more likely to be involved in a preventable crash compared to those who didn’t have the condition or who were compliant with a sleep apnea treatment plan.
According to the National Safety Council, the total cost of crashes related to sleep apnea is estimated to be about $15.9 billion per year. In addition, drowsy driving associated with S.A. has been compared to driving with a blood alcohol content near the legal limit for drunk driving. Therefore, sleep apnea screening is important for safe commercial driving. If you believe you have this sleep disorder, a sleep test can help our provider diagnose you and provide a personalized treatment plan based on your lifestyle.
Can You Still Get Your CDL with Sleep Apnea?
Many drivers wonder if they will lose their commercial drivers license if they are diagnosed with S.A. Those who don’t already have their CDL may worry they won’t be able to obtain their license. These fears can prevent drivers from seeking the help they need, as they don’t want to risk their livelihoods. However, commercial drivers can still drive with sleep apnea. As long as you are on a treatment plan that works to help reduce unsafe driving, you can be medically certified to maintain your commercial driver’s license.
Many organizations, including the FMCSA’s Medical Expert Panel, the FMCSA’s Medical Review Board, and the National Transportation Safety Board have recommended required sleep apnea testing throughout the years because of safety concerns for both drivers and others on the road. While a sleep test isn’t required to obtain your commercial driver’s license, the FMCSA’s Pulmonary Standard allows the medical examiner to recommend a sleep test if they suspect you have S.A.
How Do I Know if I Have Sleep Apnea?
Many people have S.A. and don’t even realize. This is why screening and testing is so important for commercial drivers. There are several symptoms and risk factors you can look out for to determine if you may have sleep apnea. If you notice these, our provider may recommend a home sleep test for diagnosis.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Sleep apnea can look different for each person. However, there are some common symptoms that you might notice. These symptoms include:
- Daytime fatigue
- Memory and concentration problems
- Morning headaches
- Low libido and impotence
- Frequent nighttime urination
- Gasping or choking during sleep
- Waking up with a dry throat or mouth
While this sleep disorder can happen to anyone, you are more at risk if:
- You are male
- You’re over 50 years old
- Your BMI is over 35
- Your shirt collar is 17 inches or larger
In addition, many people who have difficult-to-control high blood pressure also have sleep apnea, as the interruptions in breathing can increase the stress on the heart and increase blood pressure.
Sleep Apnea Testing
If our physician believes you may have S.A., then they may recommend a home sleep test. This is an affordable, simple diagnostic tool that you wear while you sleep in the comfort of your own home to determine if you have sleep apnea. The device records many different things about your sleep. Our board-certified, Harvard-trained sleep physician then analyzes to determine if you have sleep apnea and the severity of your sleep apnea. This helps our sleep team determine a customized treatment plan to help you start getting a better night’s sleep and to help you drive more safely.
Sleep Apnea Treatment for Commercial Drivers
Starting a sleep apnea treatment plan is an important part of staying safe on the road. Your treatment plan depends on different factors and will be personalized for your lifestyle. For example, if you have mild to moderate S.A., we may recommend trying lifestyle changes first. Some of these include:
- Losing weight
- Smoking cessation
- Reducing alcohol
- Stopping sleep medication
- Sleeping on your side or stomach
In other cases, we recommend continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which is the gold standard for sleep apnea treatment. This device can help reduce the number of apnea events you have each night. It does this by maintaining positive pressure in your airway to help prevent it from closing. Commercial drivers who use a CPAP device are no more likely to get into an accident compared to drivers who don’t have sleep apnea. In addition, this therapy can help reduce many of the risks associated with the condition, such as the risk for heart attack and stroke. CPAP therapy compliance may even extend life expectancy by about a decade for those with sleep apnea.
Men’s Health Management from Our Sleep Team
At Low T Center, we believe in making men’s health management affordable, convenient, and simple to help you improve your health. Our team helps with diagnosis and treatment for underlying causes of your symptoms. Once you start your custom treatment plan, we also help monitor your treatment plan to help optimize results. Make an appointment or order a home sleep test today to take the first step toward improving your sleep health.
Disclaimer: This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Low T Center. You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.