What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?
One in four commercial drivers may be at risk for moderate to severe OSA. OSA causes the upper airway to collapse during sleep, blocking the airway. This deprives the body of oxygen and interrupts sleep, leading to poor sleep quality. CMV drivers with OSA may suffer excessive daytime sleepiness, which can impair performance and increase the risk of being in crashes or near-crashes. OSA also increases your risk for serious health conditions.
Risk Factors for OSA
- Being overweight
- Large neck circumference
- High blood pressure
Symptoms of OSA
- Loud snoring
- Breathing cessation during sleep
- Morning headaches
- Frequent urination at night
- Difficulty staying awake
- Waking abruptly with a dry mouth
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
The most effective treatment of OSA is a nasal positive airway pressure (PAP) treatment. PAP devices deliver a stream of pressurized air to the airway to prevent collapse of the upper airway during sleep. Your doctor may also recommend other options, such as using a mouth guard, surgery for the upper airway, weight loss, and positional therapy. There are also lifestyle changes that you can make to treat mild cases of OSA:
- Lose weight if overweight and exercise regularly
- Drink alcohol moderately
- Quit smoking
- Use a nasal decongestant
- Don’t sleep on your back
- Avoid taking sedative medications
Tips for Managing OSA
If you are diagnosed with OSA, you will need to follow your doctor’s treatment plan, both at home and on the road. To do this, you may need the following:
- A power inverter: Most drivers need a power inverter installed in the cab of their trucks to use a PAP device. A DC to AC inverter allows a PAP device with humidification to run from the power of a 12V auxiliary power outlet.
- Increased truck idling time: Many trucks must idle to provide power to PAP machines. Some PAP machines require power for a longer period than a battery can provide. If you use PAP therapy, you may require more idling time than is allowed by law in some states. Work with your supervisor or carrier to address this issue.
- Group support: Group support provides a setting for you to meet with other CMV drivers who are facing similar health challenges. In a group setting, drivers can share OSA tips, such as PAP mask preferences and how the PAP machine is used on the road.
The following are general tips you should follow to manage your OSA:
- Use your PAP consistently: Using your PAP consistently helps you get the biggest health benefit out of it, as well as increased alertness and daytime functioning. Use your PAP all night, every night, and for every nap.
- Get family support: Help your family understand how important consistent PAP use is. It may take a while to get used to wearing a PAP device. You may find it to be uncomfortable, restrictive, and even embarrassing to wear in front of others. Talk to your family about this so their support can help you better adjust to your treatment.
- Take care of your PAP machine: Make sure you clean your PAP machine and all accessories after each use. Dirty machines can breed harmful bacteria, causing illness and respiratory issues. It only takes a small amount of time to clean the machine and any cleaning supplies can easily be stored in a truck.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Eat a healthier diet, exercise, and limit alcohol and smoking.
FMCSA provides advice for commercial drivers who have OSA: Driving When You have Sleep Apnea, and the Mayo Clinic has more information on this disorder.