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Sleep apnea screenings recommended for commercial truck drivers

With the winter months upon us, the waning hours of daylight that accompany the cold weather and slick roads tend to make winter driving exciting, for all the wrong reasons. For alert drivers, piloting a car in these conditions can be a white-knuckle experience. For those struggling to remain awake, however, navigating the roads safely is another matter entirely.

Drivers suffering from sleep apnea engage in a fight to focus on a daily basis. So accustomed to their constant fatigue, these individuals may not realize that their awareness is impaired or understand the cause of their exhaustion. After undergoing testing, many sufferers are surprised to discover that sleep apnea is often the culprit for their low energy.

These are the factors that prevent individuals from realizing they suffer from this sleep condition:

1. Individuals with this condition have a hard maintaining their breathing when they are at rest. Those with sleep apnea can stop breathing for short periods of time, although the temporary pause wakes them briefly.

2. The fleeting periods of waking interrupts sleep patterns, preventing the afflicted from receiving the restorative benefits of deep sleep. For some people, the interruptions can number up to 400 times a night.

3. In many cases, these individuals don't remember waking and resuming their sleep because they are roused quickly and fall asleep just as fast.

Although this condition afflicts many people, an industry that has a large concentration of apnea sufferers is the trucking industry. In a speech delivered at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conference on sleep apnea, FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro revealed that the agency estimated that 30 percent of truck drivers suffered from mild to severe sleep apnea. According to Ferro, the poor sleep that caused fatigue was considered a contributing factor in 13 percent of truck crashes each year and 28 percent of single truck crashes.

Those afflicted with this condition do not need to endure apnea for their entire lives. Breathing machines can maintain airflow to prevent lulls in breathing. After visiting a sleep specialist, patients discover how their sleep is influenced by the condition and often purchase CPAP machine. Those studying the benefits of breathing machines believe the machines can save lives as the devices lessen fatigue. A study conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reported a 73 percent reduction in preventable driving accidents for professional drivers using CPAP machines.

It is for this reason that the federal government may mandate all commercial truck drivers and other operators be screened for sleep apnea. If the screenings detect the condition, drivers may be ordered to use a breathing machine at night. The Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the FMCSA proposed this requirement in 2016.

Should this regulation be passed, those sharing the road with commercial drivers will have one less hazard to navigate as they travel highways in the winter months.

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