Sleep Apnea and The Effect on Professional Truck Drivers

Sleep Apnea and Obesity Impact Health, Work Schedule Of Truck Drivers

The lifestyle of a truck driver is not for everyone and often sleep apnea is inevitable. The hours can be irregular and long. Drivers sit for extended periods of time with little physical activity and a diet high in sodium and fat thanks to the convenience of fast food. While this lifestyle isn’t glamorous, it is rewarding and doesn’t have to be detrimental to drivers’ health with the proper diet and routine check-ups with a physician.

Sleep Apnea

Two major health challenges that truck drivers often face are sleep apnea and obesity. Sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder that causes the person affected to stop breathing for periods of 10 seconds or more several times a night. Some research shows the breathing interruptions can occur 30 times or more an hour.

Experts estimate apnea affects about six to seven percent, or 18 million Americans, with men being more susceptible to the disorder than women. That percentage skyrockets when it comes to sleep apnea in truck drivers. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that roughly 28% of truck driver have mild to severe sleep apnea.

Screening Truck Drivers For Sleep Apnea

Physicians who treat truck drivers who they suspect have untreated sleep apnea are obligated by the U.S. Department of Transportation to report the trucker to licensing agencies. Truck drivers who are reported will be mandated to pass a screening in order to keep driving.

The screening process for truck drivers can include an overnight study, or a combination of overnight tests and the daytime maintenance of wakefulness test, which is used to measure how alert a patient is during the day and if they can stay awake for a period of time in a quiet, relaxing, stimulation free environment.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recommends that commercial drivers undergo screening for obstructive sleep apnea. While there isn’t a federal mandate on sleep apnea testing for truck drivers, a decision in Parker v. Crete Carrier Corp., where the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a truck driver’s claim that the sleep apnea test mandated by the motor carrier was an impermissible medical examination, allows room for employers to take more aggressive preemptive actions to identify and deal with employee health conditions that could create safety risks.

Obesity Is Risk Factor For Sleep Apnea

While having a family history of sleep apnea can lead to the development of the disorder, another major risk factor is obesity. Obesity in truck drivers is prevalent. A federal survey conducted in Washington state reveals U.S. truck drivers are among the most obese workers in the country. It’s not hard to imagine that a lifestyle of irregular work hours, constant sitting and an improper diet thanks to the convenience of fast food can lead to truck drivers being overweight.

How To Overcome Sleep Apnea

There are four major ways to combat sleep apnea. With planning and effort, truck drivers can meet these goals:

  • Set a sleep schedule
    The work hours for truck drivers may make this the most difficult goal to meet, but implementing and following a schedule of sleep and wake hours is crucial to getting your body into a routine.
  • Make time to move
    When truckers aren’t on the road, it’s important to stay moving. Even a walk during a driving break will help. Constant hours of sitting in the cab can be hard on joints, disrupt the digestive system, create poor blood circulation and cause problematic cardiac health.
  • Lose weight
    There’s no quick fix to sleep apnea, but medical experts reveal losing as little as 10 pounds can help those affected by the disorder improve sleep quality.
  • Stop smoking
    Smokers are three times more likely to be diagnosed with a sleeping disorder.


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