You can't rest easy when you have sleep apnea. It's a narrowing or closing of the airway that disrupts sleep, at times making you wake up completely.
Rex Patty, ARNP with Stormont-Vail WorkCare, says people with sleep apnea are continually having their sleep cycle interupted, so when they wake up in the morning, they're tired throughout the day and may even fall asleep.
Commercial truck drivers are attracting particular attention on the issue. Some estimates say 28-percent of them may be affected by sleep apnea, compared to four-percent of the general population. Patty says no one knows for sure why that may be, but one reason may be age. A lot of drivers are older, and sleep apnea risk goes up with age. Another reason may be size.
Patty says the tope three reasons for sleep apnea are "obesity, obesity, and obesity." He says driving is a sedentary-type job, so drivers don't get the exercise they need. They're also often eating in fast food restaurants so they don't get proper nutrition. He says that can lead to obesity and they develop sleep apnea.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing new guidelines that would make drivers meeting certain criteria be evaluated for sleep apnea in order to get their license. The thought is undiagnosed cases are leading to wrecks on the road. The DOT estimates of the 146,700 large truck accidents in 2006, 13-percent were related to fatigue. In Kansas, there were 1,471 large truck crashes, with 191 related to fatigue.
If a driver is diagnosed with sleep apnea, he or she would need one week of treatment, usually with a machine called "CPAP," in order to get their license. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. Patty says one report on drivers who used the CPAP machine found the truckers saying they never realized they'd been so tired. He says they weren't tired, were more alert and were better drivers.
However, the idea isn't without controversy. Patty says a big question is who would pay for the screening and potential treatment. He says the cost of a sleep study to diagnose the condition and a CPAP machine can run upwards of $4000.
It could be six months or more before the DOT makes a final decision on the guidelines.
Patty will be among those holding a free seminar on the proposed guidelines 11 am May 30th at Pozez Education Center, 1505 SW 8th Ave., Topeka. It is free, but call 785-354-6120 to make a reservation. Drivers, employers and others are welcome to attend.