Truck driver fatigue may be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea

Truck drivers are more likely to be obese, placing them at higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea, which can lead to fatigue-related crashes.

Anyone in Columbus, Ohio, who works a 14-hour day may find it difficult to stay alert throughout the shift. For over-the-road truck drivers, the irregular hours may make it even harder to keep sleep at bay. However, these factors may not even be the main contributors to the risks associated with fatigue. According to NPR News, an estimated one-third of truck drivers have obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.

OSA explained

When soft tissue in the throat collapses and blocks the airway during sleep, it can cause a person to stop breathing, according to the Mayo Clinic. The lack of oxygen causes a person to wake up enough to open the airway again. This causes the snorting or choking sound that many associate with the condition. Because of the frequent interruptions, a person with sleep apnea may never fall into the deep sleep that is necessary to refresh the body and restore full functionality for the next day.

Truckers at risk

Being overweight is a common factor for more than half of those in America who have been diagnosed with OSA. In fact, obesity increases a person's risk of sleep apnea by four times. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that while approximately one-third of people in the workforce in the United States are obese, 69 percent of truckers had a body mass index over 29, which is the minimum measure for obesity. However, 17 percent were morbidly obese.

Sleep deprivation and the brain

WebMD states that a person who is sleepy takes longer to react in any situation. In fact, drowsiness mimics the effects of alcohol in the brain, correlating to a blood alcohol content of .08 percent. Impairment from drowsiness extends to memory, mood, focus, processing time and judgment, too.

In addition to all the problems a drowsy driver has while awake, there is the overriding risk of falling asleep at the wheel.

Government action

Trucking Info reports that the threats from this condition are not being ignored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. That government agency is preparing to conduct studies on the prevalence of OSA in the transportation industry, a first step in developing regulations and guidelines regarding those who are at risk. These are likely to include undergoing examination and treatment through a sleep specialist.

Because of the size and weight of a tractor trailer, the damage in a collision is typically much more severe than a crash involving two passenger vehicles. That makes eliminating risk factors such as OSA and its effects critical to safety. When a person is the victim of a fatigue-related truck accident, an attorney may provide the legal representation necessary to receive the maximum compensation allowed by law.