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Truck accidents and sleep disorders, part 1: sleep apnea

When a truck accident occurs, it can take some time for an investigation to shed light on what caused it.

In many cases, however, the investigation often points to an all-too-common culprit: driver fatigue.

In this two-part post, we will discuss the problem of fatigue among commercial drivers, focusing on the particular issue of sleep apnea.

To be sure, there are many causes of fatigued driving besides sleep apnea. One of those causes is driving a big rig for too long without breaks. That is why federal safety regulators have developed very specific hours-of-service rules for commercial drivers.

Sometimes drivers try to overcome their fatigue by using caffeine or other drugs that act as stimulants. The problem with that tactic, however, is that when the stimulant wears off, the driver is left feeling even more fatigued than before.

What is really needed to address fatigue is not caffeine, but proper sleep. There are many types of sleep disorders, however, and America is a notoriously sleep-deprived culture.

The types of sleep disorders include:
• Insomnia
• Snoring
• Restless Legs Syndrome
• Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea involves pauses in breathing that cause people to suddenly wake up from sleep because they are gasping for air. The lack of air is related to an obstruction in the normal airway for bringing air into the lungs.

One consequence of these repeated sleep interruptions is daytime sleepiness. There are other problems associated with sleep apnea as well, including heart strain from lowered blood-oxygen levels.

How many people suffer from sleep apnea? According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the answer is about 18 million people.

In part two of this post, we will discuss how prevalent the condition is among commercial drivers.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, "Get on the Road to Better Health: Recognizing the Dangers of Sleep Apnea," Accessed March 6, 2014

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