Sleep apnea plagues truck drivers, study concludes.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

PHILADELPHIA - Truck drivers who have severe sleep apnea or who sleep less than five hours a night at home perform poorly on tests that require alertness and quick reactions, according to a new study.

The results of the study appear in the second issue for August 2006 of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published by the American Thoracic Society.

Allan L. Pack of the University of Pennsylvania and six associates tested 247 commercial drivers at high risk for sleep apnea and 159 at lower risk for sleep impairment.

They evaluated the role of short sleep duration at home over one week in 340 drivers, with 55 sleeping less than five hours. Of the 406 drivers examined for sleep apnea, 118 had mild to moderate forms of the disease, and 28 had severe sleep apnea.

"In the United States, approximately 5,600 people are killed annually in crashes involving commercial trucks," Pack said. "Falling asleep while driving is an important factor in serious crashes involving commercial vehicles, prompting the question, why?"

According to the authors, the two culprits are chronically insufficient sleep and obstructive sleep apnea.

The researchers defined mild to moderate sleep apnea as "from 5 to less than 30 temporary breathing pauses per hour of sleep," a process that decreases the amount of oxygen in the blood. Severe sleep apnea, on the other hand, involves more than 30 breathing pauses per hour.

Based on the study's results, the authors recommend that drivers be screened regularly for sleep apnea and chronic sleep deprivation during their periodic medical checkups. Also, both the drivers and their spouses should be educated on how important adequate sleep is.