If you drive a big wheeler, this article is for you. Yet, this article is also for all those people out there that believe that sleep apnea is something to ignore or scoff at. In a new survey study, researchers found that truck drivers with untreated sleep apnea, or truck drivers that don’t adhere to CPAP treatment, have a much greater likelihood, or risk, of being in a major, deadly crash.
The study, which was co-authored by researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and featured in the preeminent journal Sleep, was founded on the widely known notion that sleep apnea can cause extreme drowsiness and daytime fatigue, which is a recipe for an accident at the wheel. One of the researchers, Erin Mabry, says, “This new analysis really underscores the risk truck drivers diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea assume if they choose not to adhere to a treatment program.” With a large eighteen-wheeler, the consequences could be catastrophic.
The study itself took a look at over 16,000 drivers who were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. The study then compared those individuals diagnosed with sleep apnea to individuals that aren’t likely to have the sleep disorder. The individuals that fell into the former category were given automatic-adjusting CPAP machines and were monitored for usage. After that, preventable crashes were evaluated across the two groups per 100,000 miles to see if there were any big differences.
What the researchers discovered is that for each 1,000 truck drivers working within a year, the drivers who refused CPAP treatment had a total of 70 preventable serious truck crashes. The crashes were preventable, because if the drivers simply underwent CPAP treatment, the crashes could have been avoided. On the other end of the spectrum, truck drivers without sleep apnea and truck drivers who underwent CPAP treatment experienced only 14 serious crashes.
Why is this study important? For one thing, it gives shocking insight into how dangerous sleep apnea can be, but it also one of the first large scale tests that gives insight into how screening and diagnosing sleep apnea can impact crash risk. Moreover, the study gives insight into the trucking industry. Currently, there are federal laws that allow truck drivers to keep their diagnosis of sleep apnea private. Sure, a trucking company may require a screening, but the drivers can always quit and then hire on with another company that doesn’t have such screening methods. In the end, it is important for both truck drivers and their employers to take sleep apnea seriously.