According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) sleep apnea is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep.
These pauses can last for a few seconds or as long as several minutes, and they can occur multiple times during an hour of sleep. In many instances, breathing resumes with a choking sound that can be disturbing to those observing the person with this disorder.
Doctors have identified three main types of sleep apnea, obstructive, central and mixed, but obstructive sleep apnea is the type that is most commonly diagnosed among commercial truck drivers.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs when a person’s tongue blocks the breathing airways and causes breathing to stop. This also slows the flow of blood through the body and triggers an alert from the brain to wake the person up.
That is why many people who suffer from OSA find themselves waking up in the middle of the night, gasping and choking for air.
There are three types of OSA: severe OSA, which means more than 30 incidents per hour, moderate OSA, which means 15 to 30 incidents per hour, and mild OSA, which means 5 to 15 incidents per hour.
Common risk factors for OSA include:
- Obesity – people who are obese or overweight have a higher risk of OSA
- Smoking – tobacco smoke can cause breathing passages to swell, which contributes to the blocking of airways
- Hereditary – some people may inherit OSA from relatives who have the ailment
- Alcohol – frequent drinkers are more susceptible to OSA, because alcohol relaxes the throat muscles and makes them more prone to blockage
- Tonsils and Adenoids – tonsils and adenoids are located at the back of a person’s throat, and they can become inflamed and contribute to breathing blockage
Because of the frequent interruptions of sleep, OSA causes fatigue, inattentiveness and loss of concentration, all of which are key aspects of safety for commercial truck drivers.