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Truck Drivers and Sleep Apnea: An Interview With a Former Truck Driver

Posted On October 2, 2013
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October 02, 2013

Recently, Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America (SATCOA) posted an article discussing the dangers of sleep apnea affecting commercial drivers, and the proposed implementation of mandatory sleep apnea testing in order to receive, or renew, a commercial license.

In order to gain a proper perspective on the issue, SATCOA conducted an interview with former commercial truck driver Heather Davie about her sleep habits on the road, and her thoughts on sleep apnea testing.

SATCOA: When you went through your training, what kind of sleep education did you receive?

Davie: I watched a video that talked about time management in order to keep a good sleep schedule. Also, as a trucker I should be regularly tested for sleep apnea. This was only at my first company. In my second, they only reviewed the dos and don’ts of time management in regards to sleep. Maybe, because the company only hired drivers with 6 months or more experience, they did not concentrate on health concerns of the trucker profession.

SATCOA: Did your companies talk to you about sleep apnea at all? If so, how deeply in detail did they go?

Davie: Yes, I was told about sleep apnea. They told me what it is and common ways it was treated. They also advised me to be tested for it regularly.

SATCOA: Did they describe the serious health concerns of sleep apnea?

Davie: Yes, the health concerns were discussed in the video.

SATCOA: Is there any on-going education available to truckers about sleep wellness?

Davie: Not that I have encountered. When you first start with a company, you watch some videos. They mainly concentrate on safe driving in all weather and general health of drivers. If the company hires new drivers without experience they are more detailed.

SATCOA: Do truckers need to have regular health evaluations? If so, can they be deemed unfit? What are the repercussions of a poor evaluation?

Davie: Yes, we have to have a medical checkup and card issued by a doctor every two years. If you do not do this you lose your license. If there is a problem, like high blood pressure, the person will have a limited card and have to be evaluated more frequently.

SATCOA: Do you have to renew your driver’s license, take tests or do any sort of on-going “certification”?

Davie: Yes, you have to renew your license and even sooner if you have certain certifications. Some certifications available are double, triples, tanker, hazmat, passenger, nuclear, overweight, and many more.

SATCOA: Do you think truckers would be up for a sleep evaluation, mandatory or not?

Davie: We are already encouraged to be evaluated, but most put it off until a problem develops. There is a money and time concern that most people cannot get past. I wouldn’t mind having to be evaluated as long as to hiring companies pick up the bill. They already do for the medical cards and it would be nice if they would for a sleep evaluation.

SATOCA: Do you feel a sleep evaluation would make the roads safer?

Davie: Yes, sleep evaluations can catch problems before they become serious. Truckers spend so much time on the road that good sleep health is just as important as heart and weight health.

SATCOA: In more than half of cases sleep apnea is brought on by obesity. Do you think that if overall improved health options for truckers existed, like a healthy meal plan and exercise stations that the roads would be safer?

Davie: Yes, it was very hard to keep myself healthy on the road. I constantly felt tired and rundown.

SATOCA: How do you feel about the current facilities for truckers?

Davie: I think current facilities are outdated. We know so much more about health and fitness than just 10 years ago. Currently, there are few healthy food options and virtually no exercise options. Food on the road is expensive and greasy. In 3 states there is maybe 1 truck stop with exercise facilities.

SATCOA: Where did you sleep when you were on the road? Did you sleep in your truck more often or at a station?

Davie: I slept in the sleeper bunk inside the truck. I parked the truck and slept inside all the time. The only exception was if the truck was in the shop being fixed.

SATCOA: Did you find sleeping more difficult because of your hours?

Davie: Yes, my hours were always in flux so I did not have a regular sleep schedule.

SATCOA: Did you find sleeping more difficult because of discomfort in your sleeping quarters? Did you feel the quality of sleep you were receiving was affected?

Davie: The sleeping quarters were comfortable. It was an adjustment to sleep in a truck, but the bed was big enough to fit me. Also, the mattress was good.

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