A new study showed that commercial drivers do not tell employers about all of their sleep apnea symptoms, probably because they are afraid of losing their jobs. Sleep apnea symptoms include drowsiness, headaches and sometimes depression during the daytime hours.

When a person has sleep apnea, his or her breathing is interrupted during sleep hours, which causes a restless sleep and sometimes causes the person to wake up. These interruptions to a person’s sleep cause symptoms during the daytime.

The study polled 37 commercial vehicle drivers and 74 people who did not drive for a living. Although all of the participants in both groups showed a similar number of disturbances during sleep, the control group – the non-drivers – reported an average of 11 on the sleepiness scale while the drivers reported an average score of 8.1. The higher a person scored on the sleepiness scale, the more the person suffered from daytime sleepiness.

The study participants were treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for six months. The CPAP machine keeps a person’s airway open at night, so that breathing is not interrupted. When reevaluated, the drivers scored lower than the control group. The drivers reported an average sleepiness score of 4.8 while the control group reported an average of 7.7.

Furthermore, the drivers only received treatment for 75 percent of the days and the control group received treatment for 83 percent of the days. Because the drivers reported lower levels of sleepiness than the control group, the author of the study concluded the commercial drivers understated their sleep apnea symptoms.

When drivers fail to obtain necessary treatment and do not admit when they are too tired to drive, the consequences can be catastrophic.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, “Bus, Truck Drivers May Downplay Sleep Troubles,” September 5, 2012.

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