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What every CDL Driver Should know about Sleep Apnea


Do you snore, have trouble sleeping through the night or get tired during the day? You could be suffering from a condition known as Sleep Apnea.


A 2020 study released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that nearly half of truck drivers are at risk for obstructive sleep apnea. (https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/97533)


What is Sleep Apnea? Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. There are 3 types:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea - the most common type of sleep apnea occurring when the airway is floppy due to poor muscle tone in the throat

  • Central sleep apnea - no blockage of the airway and occurs because the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the respiratory muscles that control breathing

  • Mixed sleep apnea - a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea occurs in all age groups and both sexes, but there are several factors that may put you at higher risk:

  • A family history of sleep apnea

  • Having a small upper airway or large tonsils

  • Being overweight

  • Being male

  • A recessed chin, small jaw, or a large overbite

  • A large neck size (17 inches or greater for men, 16 inches or greater for women)

  • Smoking and alcohol use

  • Being age 40 or older

  • Ethnicity

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

  • Loud snoring

  • Morning headaches and nausea

  • Abrupt awakenings while sleeping with gasping or choking

  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat

  • Loss of sex drive/impotence

  • Excessive daytime fatigue and sleepiness

  • Irritability and/or feelings of depression

  • Difficulty focusing during the day

  • Nighttime sweating

  • High blood pressure

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

To diagnose sleep apnea, your doctor may send you to a sleep center for testing. You may be asked to spend a night at the center, where experts will monitor your sleep.


How Can Sleep Apnea Affect Your Driving?

Because sleep apnea affects your sleep, it also affects your daytime alertness and performance. Untreated sleep apnea can make it difficult for you to stay awake, focus your eyes, and react quickly while driving. In general, studies show that people with untreated sleep apnea have an increased risk of being involved in a fatigue-related motor vehicle crash.


NOTE: Many sleep apnea patients say they never fall asleep while driving. However, you don’t have to fall asleep to have a crash. You simply have to be inattentive or less alert — and with untreated sleep apnea; you are not as sharp as you should be.


Can You Still Drive if You Have Sleep Apnea?

Yes! According to FMCSA regulations a person with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any condition likely to interfere with their ability to drive safely cannot be medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce. However, once successfully treated, a driver may regain their “medically-qualified-to-drive” status. It is important to note that most cases of sleep apnea can be treated successfully.


Because each state sets its own medical standards for driving a CMV in intrastate commerce, check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles for regulations in your state.


What to Do Once You Learn You Have Sleep Apnea

You and/or your doctor should contact the medical qualifying examiner to determine your fitness to operate a commercial motor vehicle and to get help with treatment.


It is critical that persons with sleep apnea fully use the treatment provided by their doctor. They should not drive if they are not being treated. Being effectively treated, and complying with that treatment, offers the best hope of a commercial driver with sleep apnea to secure the ability to do his or her job safely and be fully alert.

At Carleton Transport, our goal is to create calm in the chaos of the trucking industry while maintaining driver safety. If you’re interested in hearing more about our current driving opportunities, call 402-332-0260 to speak with our recruiter. Or, visit our website at carletontransport.com/driving-jobs today.


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