A new study recently issued by researchers from the Virginia Technical Institute reveals that tractor trailer drivers who suffer from sleep apnea and fail to follow a treatment program are five times more likely to be involved in a serious truck accident.
A person suffering from sleep apnea typically has pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while he or she is sleeping. These pauses can last up to one minute. In one hour, these pauses can occur up to 30 times. With each pause, a person who is in a deep sleep shifts into a light sleep. This continual sleep interruption leaves the individual feeling exhausted the next day because he or she was not getting a good quality night’s sleep. Estimates are that more than 25 million people suffer from the chronic disorder.
One of the most common treatment methods for sleep apnea is positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy. Auto-adjusting machines blow streams of air through a mask that the sufferer wears while he or she is sleeping.
There were 3,226 truck drivers who participated in the study. All of the drivers had similar job experiences, as well as approximately the same length of time they spent working as truck drivers. Half of the participants suffered from sleep apnea and the other half did not.
The drivers who suffered from sleep apnea were given an auto-adjusting machine which they could use both on the road and at home. The machines contained an internal memory chip, which enabled researchers to download data to see if the driver assigned the machine was complying with the recommended treatment.
Participants who failed to follow the PAP therapy program were either let go from their job or quit voluntarily. However, the researchers pointed out that under current federal regulations, a truck driver is not required to disclose a diagnosis of sleep apnea, which allows him or her to go work for a new trucking company if he or she is dismissed from another one.
The results of the study revealed that in one year’s time, 1,000 truck drivers suffering from sleep apnea who refused to follow treatment would have 70 preventable serious tractor trailer accidents, whereas drivers who either followed treatment or did not suffer from sleep apnea would only have 14 preventable truck accidents in that same period.
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