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Driver Lifestyles

Sleep Apnea Signals

The Signs of Sleep Apnea

By Sean M. Lyden - Staff Writer
Posted Mar 14th 2016 9:00AM

If you're constantly feeling sleepy throughout the day, you might be suffering from sleep apnea. And that could be having a major impact on your long-term health and safety as an expediter.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where your breathing is interrupted repeatedly during sleep, with a breathing pause that lasts at least ten seconds. Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, causing fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels, which may lead to hypertension, heart disease, and memory problems. And it increases the risk of drowsy driving, which is especially problematic for truckers.

In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations, almost one-third (28 percent) of commercial truck drivers were found to have mild to severe sleep apnea.

What's the impact on drivers?

Because sleep apnea affects your sleep, it diminishes your daytime alertness and performance, making it difficult for you to stay awake, focus your eyes, and react quickly while driving -- increasing risk of being involved in a fatigue-related vehicle crash.

So, how can you determine whether you might be at high risk for sleep apnea?

Although sleep apnea occurs in all age groups and both genders, FMCSA outlines these risk factors:

  • A family history of sleep apnea
  • Having a small upper airway
  • Being overweight
  • Having a recessed chin, small jaw, or a large overbite
  • A large neck size (17 inches or greater for men, 16 inches or greater for women)
  • Smoking and alcohol use
  • Being age 40 or older
  • Ethnicity

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

What are the signs that you might be a sleep apnea sufferer?
Here's a list of the symptoms compiled by FMCSA:

  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headaches and nausea
  • Gasping or choking while sleeping
  • Loss of sex drive/impotence
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability and/or feelings of depression
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Frequent nighttime urination

If you're experiencing any of these systems, how do you determine whether you're actually suffering from sleep apnea?

Consult your doctor, who may send you to a sleep center for overnight testing to monitor your sleep and confirm a diagnosis.

Moving Forward
But will a sleep apnea diagnosis disqualify you as a driver?

That depends on the level of severity. According to the FMCSA, the disqualifying level of sleep apnea is moderate to severe, where your ability to drive safely is impaired. However, once successfully treated for sleep apnea, a driver may regain his or her "medically-qualified-to-drive" status, when the medical examiner qualifies and determines your medical fitness for duty.

To learn more about the range of available treatment options, go to

The Bottom Line
The good news is that sleep apnea is a treatable condition. If you find yourself experiencing any of the signs, get it checked by a qualified medical professional as soon as possible. Timely treatment will improve your overall health, keep you safer on the road, and protect your long-term future as an expediter.