Apnea Steals Sleep From the Restless

Summarized from an article by Stephanie M. Hill

The dream had been the same for as long as he could remember. Bryan Lapuyade would swallow something and choke. He’d awaken with a start, but the sensation remained – he could barely breathe.

When the time came to go to work, Lapuyade would get out of bed, hop in his tractor-trailer and hit the road as a long-haul driver for Ryder. In 12 years with the transportation and warehousing company, he has logged thousands of miles delivering goods from his base in Utah to places all over the West Coast. But Lapuyade’s restless nights often left him feeling groggy behind the wheel. He finally went to a doctor, who in October found an explanation for his restive dreams: He had sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep. The diagnosis helped Lapuyade understand why he felt like his energy was depleted on the job.”It was kind of like an exhaustion of driving,” he recalled, “but not so exhausted that you’d say I was going to fall asleep.”

In this sense, Lapuyade, 56, isn’t driving solo. An estimated quarter of the 3.4 million licensed commercial drivers in the United States have sleep apnea. And new research shows that drivers across the transportation industry – perhaps more than any other occupation – suffer a range of sleep problems linked to work conditions such as long hours, irregular shifts and little opportunity to move around.

The problem is so prevalent that last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation overhauled national federal regulations of commercial truck driving.

By July, the maximum number of hours in a driver’s work week will be shaved from 82 to 70, and new rules for breaks will be established.

Adults should sleep seven to nine hours a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But in an April survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 70 percent of people who usually worked at night in transportation and warehousing jobs reported sleeping six or fewer hours nightly. Those employees were more tired than those in any other line of evening work. In contrast, 41 percent of manufacturing workers and 35 percent of retail workers who worked nights reported getting insufficient sleep.

If an accountant dozes at his desk, not much suffers besides his productivity. But driver fatigue can be deadly for everyone on the road. An estimated 20 percent of vehicle crashes are associated with drowsy driving. At least 15 percent of heavy truck crashes involve fatigue.

Incidents like that have put fatigue atop the National Transportation Safety Board’s list of most-wanted improvements for more than two decades.”There’s no question,” said board member Mark Rosekind. “We have accidents where people with sleep apnea have fallen asleep at the wheel.”


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