Besides the threat to the patient’s own long-term health, sleep apnea is a public safety threat. We all know that driving without a good night’s sleep affects our ability to operate a motor vehicle safety. Now imagine that the next commercial truck you see on the highway is being driven by someone nodding off at the wheel because sleep apnea has left him or her exhausted.
Untreated sleep apnea among truckers is a serious source of crashes in the U.S., according to a new study reported on by U.S. News and World Report. Researchers followed more than 1,600 drivers with obstructive sleep apnea, along with an equal number without the condition.
They provided CPAP machines to the truckers with sleep apnea. The device helps people with the condition breath while sleeping. The CPAP were designed for use at home but can also be used in a semi truck’s sleeping compartment. The researchers then tracked all of the subject’s driving records after that.
Some of the drivers with sleep apnea used their CPAPs regularly, but others did not. The study found that drivers who did not were five times more likely to get into a serious and preventable crash, compared with drivers who always or sometimes used their CPAPs to sleep.
Usually, stories about truck driver fatigue refer to drivers not taking enough time to rest on the road. But this study shows that even when a driver tries to sleep, the rest period can be ineffective if a medical condition interferes.