What You’ll Learn

As you read about sleep apnea and truck drivers, you’ll learn:

    • Sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder that has numerous different symptoms.
    • It’s still possible to get a truck driving job if you have sleep apnea as long as it isn’t too severe.
    • Professional truck drivers should know the risks of sleep apnea and how to manage them to ensure that they’re keeping themselves and others safe on the road.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. The pauses in breathing can last over 10 seconds in some cases, and they may occur up to 400 times in a single night if the sleep disorder is severe enough. This condition is serious, and it can even be life-threatening if it goes unrecognized and undiagnosed for too long. 

This condition is relatively prevalent within the trucking industry. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations sponsored a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania to investigate this issue. The study found that 28% of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea. This is a large concern because the symptoms of sleep apnea can affect a person’s driving in addition to causing other related health problems.

Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

There are numerous sleep apnea symptoms, and each person may experience this disorder differently. The most common symptoms include all of the following:

    • Loud Snoring
    • Morning Headaches
    • Morning Nausea
    • Gasping or Choking While Sleeping
    • Loss of Sex Drive
    • Impotence
    • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
    • Irritability
    • Feelings of Depression
    • Disturbed Sleep
    • Problems With Concentration and Memory
    • Frequent Nighttime Urination

If you experience some or all of these symptoms, it still doesn’t necessarily mean that you have sleep apnea. It’s important to get a proper diagnosis from a doctor. To do this, the doctor may send you to a sleep center for overnight testing. Often, a center will request that a patient spend the night there so experts can monitor them while they sleep.

Many of these symptoms can be especially problematic for truck drivers (and members of other professions as well). For example, excessive tiredness, problems with concentration, and irritability can make it hard to stay alert, productive, and calm while on the road. It’s absolutely critical for truck drivers to stay awake, remain focused, and occasionally react quickly while they’re on the road. 

Many people with sleep apnea say they have never fallen asleep while driving. Still, even being groggy or less attentive can take a serious toll on a person’s driving skills. Previous studies have shown that drivers with untreated sleep apnea have an increased risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident caused by fatigue. For these reasons, it’s especially important for a truck driver to receive a prompt diagnosis for sleep apnea and look into treatment right away.

Will I Lose My Driving License if I Have Sleep Apnea?

You won’t necessarily lose your driver’s license if you have sleep apnea. FMCSA regulations actually don’t specifically address sleep apnea, but there are some more general regulations that apply to this condition. For example, a person with a medical history or diagnosis of any condition likely to interfere with safe driving cannot be medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) for the purpose of interstate commerce.

Don’t give up hope, though! Once the condition is successfully treated, a driver can still achieve a status of “medically qualified to drive.” The even better news is that most cases of sleep apnea can be treated with enough success that a driver may resume work as a professional truck driver. Each state has different standards for this. If you have questions about the Department of Motor Vehicle regulations regarding sleep apnea in Arizona, feel free to reach out to us at Duncan and Son Lines to see what we can do to get you driving again.

Does DOT Require CPAP for Mild Sleep Apnea?

This depends on your specific diagnosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea and instructed by a doctor to treat it, you will have to comply with your treatment to keep driving. It’s possible that you may have to seek medical certification more regularly to keep your commercial driving license. Keeping up with your treatment plan and following the appropriate procedures can help you keep your CDL.

Risk Factors

Anyone can become afflicted with sleep apnea, but some people are at higher risk than others. Those risk factors may include any of the following:

    • Ethnicity
    • Age
    • Smoking
    • Alcohol Consumption
    • Large Neck Size
    • Recessed Chin
    • Large Overbite
    • Small Jaw
    • Weight
    • Small Upper Airway
    • Family History of Sleep Apnea

How Long Can a Trucker Drive Without Sleeping?

The FMCSA specifies that drivers must not drive longer than 11 hours after being off duty for ten consecutive hours. While this rule is in place to help CDL drivers stay rested and safe, some people may have different needs. The National Sleep Foundation claims that most adults require at least seven full hours of sleep to be fully alert during the day. 

Everybody is different, though, and some people may require much more sleep to feel their best and perform at their highest level. For drivers with sleep apnea, it’s especially important to monitor sleep, stay on a good schedule, and take extra precautions to ensure safety on the road. The best trucking jobs will always prioritize your health and safety, so you should never feel pressured to skip sleep for the sake of your work.

Who Is Responsible If A Tired Truck Driver Causes a Crash?

Assessing liability after an accident involving a truck can be much more complicated than when the accident only involves two passenger cars. This is because there are so many more parties involved. For example, attorneys and insurance companies may investigate the driver, the truck manufacturer, the owner of the truck or trailer, and various other parties. If the accident is determined to have been caused by a truck driver’s negligent behavior (such as driving without sleep or failing to treat sleep apnea), the truck driver is at risk of being held responsible.

How to Deal With Sleep Apnea on the Road

People have addressed sleep apnea in several different ways:

    • Using oral appliances like CPAP machines while sleeping
    • Avoiding alcohol and smoking
    • Changing sleeping position
    • Partaking in regular exercise, especially yoga, since it includes a breathing element
    • Maintaining a healthy weight

While lifestyle changes may help, none of these things should be considered legitimate cures on their own. The only way to be sure you’re addressing sleep apnea effectively is by working with a doctor to get a diagnosis and follow their advice for treatment. The best trucking companies will be supportive of this process.

Here at Duncan and Son Lines, we’ve been building our driver-focused culture since 1943. We pride ourselves on offering consistent downtime and prioritizing drivers’ needs. Contact us to learn more about how we support drivers with sleep apnea or check our open positions.

Featured Image: Axel_Kock/Shutterstock

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