It’s late. You’re driving on an open stretch of road, it’s quiet, and your eyelids begin to droop. We’ve all been there, and man, isn’t it scary? Driving is such an ordinary task that it’s easy to forget how dangerous it is. A moment of distraction can easily become your last moment ever. Sleepiness is even more dangerous, and truck drivers who work long hours or night shifts need to be especially cautious. Concerningly, getting enough sleep isn’t always enough to fight back fatigue. Sleep apnea, one of the top five most common sleep disorders, can lead to persistent fatigue and drowsiness. Many drivers don’t even realize they have it.
Sleep apnea is a bigger health concern than you might think.
The most obvious symptom of sleep apnea is snoring. The disorder is more complex than that, however. In people with obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles in the throat relax during sleep to the point that their airway temporarily becomes blocked. They stop breathing briefly before awakening abruptly to gasp for air. These episodes are so brief that the individual often doesn’t recall having ever woken up.
While one night of interrupted sleep is no big deal, people with untreated sleep apnea suffer from a wide range of symptoms that can significantly affect their health and daily lives. There are three main reasons truck drivers should be on the lookout for signs of sleep apnea:
- It leads to more serious health problems.
At first people with sleep apnea may notice nothing more than waking up with a headache, irritability, and snoring loud enough to wake the neighbors. Over time, the symptoms become more serious. They often develop brain fog, insomnia, and intense daytime sleepiness.
If left untreated, it can also lead to or worsen high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Weight gain is another common side effect. All of these issues are often linked, each one magnifying the others. The ramifications go beyond productivity, impacting drivers on every level.
- It endangers drivers and others on the road.
Daytime sleepiness and general fatigue are extremely dangerous when your job entails long hours on the road. Those with sleep apnea are up to five times more likely to get in a car accident than people with normal sleep patterns. Falling asleep at the wheel can be lethal not only to the driver but to other drivers and passengers as well– Especially when the driver is operating a massive truck.
- Irregular sleep schedules can make sleep apnea side effects worse.
Sleep apnea is problematic enough for people working a 9-5. It’s even worse for truck drivers who work night shifts. Odd hours don’t worsen sleep apnea itself, working during the night often leads to increased drowsiness. Drivers are more likely to rely on unhealthy energy drinks to stay alert, further damaging their health in the process.
All truck drivers should be screened, just in case.
If we’re making sleep apnea sound like a big deal, that’s because it is. Fortunately, treating it is much less challenging than living with it. If you or someone you know is experiencing any symptoms that could be tied to sleep issues, like persistent sleepiness, morning headaches, irritability, or loud snoring, visiting your PCP is the first step.
They’ll likely order a sleep study to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment can entail using a breathing machine at night or wearing a special night guard to help keep your airways open. It’s a headache, but it’s much less of a headache than falling asleep at the wheel. For trucking companies like BYX, it’s always a good idea to inform drivers about the common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea. Better safe than sorry.