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Losing Sleep Over Sleep Apnea

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Do you snore? Although snoring can be annoying, it’s not something that most people are concerned with. But could your snoring actually be sleep apnea? You might want to get checked because it could impact your ability to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the very near future!

What is Sleep Apnea?

Over 18 million adults in North America suffer from this very common sleep disorder. Sleep apnea causes a person to stop breathing while sleeping because their airway becomes blocked (obstructive sleep apnea) and a limited amount of air reaches their lungs. This can result in a person snoring loudly or even choking causing them to wake. In the most severe cases, a person can wake several hundred times a night!

Why is Sleep Apnea a Problem for CMV Drivers?

ApneaMask.jpgSo what, I snore and wake up when I sleep! What does that have to do with me doing my day job? I can still drive! Well…it actually has a lot to do with your ability to safely drive a CMV. If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in:

  • Sleepiness or drowsiness
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart failure and stroke
  • Irritability and/or depression
  • Morning headaches or nausea

A recent study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Health estimated that almost 20% of CMV drivers suffer from sleep apnea. The same study found that CMV drivers with untreated sleep apnea have five times more preventable crashes which would account for almost 9,000 fatalities and 220,000 serious injuries!

Sleep Apnea Screening
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Medical Review Board (MRB) outlined their formal recommendations on screening and disqualification criteria for drivers suspected of having sleep apnea in August 2016.

Last week, two FMCSA advisory groups approved these recommendations to require drivers that meet specific criteria to be screened for obstructive sleep apnea before being cleared to drive.

It’s important to note that these are just recommendations – a formal rule has yet to be put in place yet. The FMCSA would likely use these recommendations if/when they develop a final rule.

If the recommendations were put into law, the Apnea-2.jpgfollowing drivers would be screened for sleep apnea testing:

  • Drivers with a body mass index (BMI) of 40+
    Drivers would get a 90-day medical certification, during which time they’d have to complete a sleep study. If diagnosed, they need to start treatment within the 90-day period.
  • Drivers with a BMI of over 33 and meet three additional criteria
    Additional criteria includes being over 42, male, a postmenopausal female, haing diabetes, haing high blood pressure, etc. These drivers would need to also follow the steps above.

How to Be Proactive
There’s been a lot of time and money invested in researching the impact of sleep apnea and the impact on the transportation industry – it’s safe to say that it likely isn’t going to go away. At this point, no official rule has been put in place regarding testing for sleep apnea but it likely will be a rule in the future.

As a driver, it’s important to put your health and safe, as well as the safety of others on the road, first. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, get tested! You don’t have to fall asleep while driving to have an accident. Being inattentive or less alert because of untreated sleep apnea is enough to put yourself and others at risk.