Study after study continues to confirm what has been intuitively known for most of human history: Adequate sleep is very important. Lack of sleep can have both immediate and long-term negative consequences. It impairs our ability to learn, to regulate body functions and to pay attention to our surroundings.
When work suffers as a result of fatigue, most people fear getting fired or disciplined. But in some professions, including commercial truck driving, fatigue can and does have deadly consequences. Statistics show that, on average, about 4,000 people are killed in truck accidents each year on U.S. roads and highways. In many of these accidents, fatigue plays a role. Driver fatigue can be caused not just by lack of sleep but also by poor sleep quality. This is precisely why diagnosing sleep apnea among truck drivers is an important priority for safety regulators.
The gears of government often grind slowly; and expressions of concern about sleep apnea among truck drivers have traditionally generated far more talk than action. Yet the issue is being addressed by groups like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Earlier this month, the FMCSA announced that it is in the beginning of a rule-making process regarding "screening and treatment requirements for drivers who by definition are at risk for obstructive sleep apnea,"according to news sources.
Truck drivers often lead sedentary lifestyles (sitting in a vehicle all day) and typically have less access to healthy dining options. Both of these factors contribute to obesity, which can significantly exacerbate sleep apnea.
All drivers are at risk when they share the road with fatigued truck drivers, because fatigued driving is impaired driving. Hopefully, the FMCSA's recent announcement will keep this important issue in the spotlight and lead to substantive changes in how truck drivers are screened and treated for sleep apnea.