While the daytime sleepiness that is a symptom of undiagnosed sleep apnea is an inconvenience that interferes with normal daily activities for many people, it is a dangerous situation for those who drive for a living. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says that as many 28 percent of commercial driver’s license holders have sleep apnea.1
Irvin Belton is one of those drivers. A 2002 surgical procedure did not alleviate his snoring, so when he began driving commercially in 2004, he was still snoring, not sleeping well during the night and waking up tired. “I had headaches all of the time and was tired throughout the day,” he adds. “I had to pull over during the day to rest many more times than required by regulations.”
A sleep study conducted at the DeKalb Medical Sleep Disorders Center showed that Belton does have sleep apnea. The breathing-related sleep disorder causes brief interruptions of breathing during sleep and is not only dangerous for drivers who can fall asleep at the wheel, but it can lead to other health problems, including high blood pressure, memory problems, stroke and weight gain.
The good news is that sleep apnea is treatable with the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). The idea of wearing a mask attached to a machine while sleeping may seem cumbersome, but new mask designs that are made especially for women or cover nostrils only, are more comfortable and easier to use, says T. Massey Arrington, RPSGT, MBA, manager of the Sleep Disorders Center.
Belton doesn’t regret taking the time to undergo his sleep study. Not only did he learn how to treat his sleep apnea, he also learned how to manage his sleep routine even though he drives at night. “In order to maintain my certification to drive, I have to document use of my CPAP and show that I am sleeping well,” he says. “I’ve made a lot of changes to improve my sleep by using the CPAP, sleeping at the same time each day and making sure I eat healthy while on the road.”
Click here to see the full article in DeKalb Medical's Pushing Beyond magazine.
1 Pack AI, Dinges DF, & Maislin G. (2002) A Study of Prevalence of Sleep Apnea among Commercial Truck Drivers (Report No. DOT-RT-02-030). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, FMCSA.