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How does sleep apnea affect your driving?

In a previous entry, this blog explored common causes of motor vehicle accidents, citing distractions of any kind as one of the top culprits. However, a major hindrance to safe driving, especially in drivers of commercial vehicles, originates in reduced alertness and tiredness as a result of sleep apnea.

A study conducted by University of Pennsylvania found that 28 percent of commercial truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea. While there is not necessarily a direct correlation between commercial vehicle accidents and sleep apnea, the disorder does affect sleeping patterns and thus can affect one's ability to drive.

Commercial vehicle drivers' schedules often require them to drive with little opportunity for prolonged sleep, and they often have to drive at night. These factors make driving a rig enough of a challenge. Add on sleep apnea, and the job becomes exceedingly more difficult and more dangerous. Driving a commercial vehicle with a severe form of sleep apnea is irresponsible, and the consequences could be catastrophic.

Thankfully, sleep apnea is a treatable disorder. The most difficult step in the process is diagnosis, as many people who have the disorder do not even realize it. A vast majority of people experience the symptoms of sleep apnea at some point: loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, concentration issues and the like. The frequency and degree may be an indication that you have sleep apnea, not just run-of-the-mill restless nights.

In any case, all drivers, including commercial vehicle operators, have to combat tiredness when they are on the road, especially at night. Sleep apnea does make this any easier. Becoming aware of this disorder, as well diagnosing and treating it, could be a step towards making the road safer for all.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, "Driving when you have sleep apnea," accessed on March 22, 2016

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