In a recent blog, we discussed changes to the numbers of hours a truck driver is allowed to operate a vehicle. Those changes, finalized in July of this year by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA), are intended to reduce truck accidents caused by fatigue.

Across the United States, the trucking industry is responsible for getting freight where it is needed, often on a short turnaround. Safety is essential for operating a big-rig or driving near one. While shortened hours may give truck drivers more rest, tightened regulations do not affect daytime drowsiness caused by sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?

While many people recognize snoring as a symptom of sleep apnea, the indications of the problem are not the same for each person. There are two prevalent types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: With age, weight and genetic predisposition, the soft tissue at the back of the throat becomes flaccid and relaxed during sleep. When the muscles of the throat collapse in on the upper respiratory airway, breathing is disturbed. When blood oxygen levels decline, your sleep is disrupted in order to shift position and breathe. Breathing disruptions occur for up to ten seconds repeatedly throughout the night.
  • Central sleep apnea: Far less common than obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea is a dysfunction of signals sent by the brain when you sleep.

Both types of apnea are sleep disorders that prevent restorative sleep. FMSCA estimates that approximately one-third of truck operators experience sleep apnea, partly due to disrupted sleep cycles and partly due to natural tendency toward the disorder.

Truck drivers or motorists with sleep apnea can suffer from reduced reaction time, poor memory, daytime drowsiness and diminished decision making capacity during waking hours.

If you are chronically sleepy during the day, talk to your physician about sleep apnea. If you have been injured by a drowsy truck driver, seek experienced legal advice.