Sleep Apnea in Trucking: A Hidden Growing Risk on the Road

A good night's sleep is vital to your health and well-being throughout your life. When you're awake, you feel differently than when you're asleep. The body works during sleep to maintain your physical health and support healthy brain function. FMCSA medical guidelines are pretty vague and place the responsibility on drivers to self report if diagnosed.

Trucking is a vital industry that keeps goods moving across the country, but it also comes with significant health risks for drivers. One of the most prevalent and often undiagnosed, 24 million cases in the US alone, conditions affecting truckers is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep, leading to fragmented sleep and poor quality of rest. In the context of trucking, where long hours behind the wheel are common, sleep apnea poses a particularly dangerous threat.

How Sleep Apnea Causes Trucking Accidents?

Prevalence and Impact on Truckers

Research indicates that sleep apnea is more prevalent among truck drivers than in the general population. One study found that up to 28% of commercial drivers may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form of the disorder, as compared to the general public prevalence at 9% OSA occurs when the muscles in the throat relax too much during sleep, causing the airway to become blocked, leading to pauses in breathing.

The impact of sleep apnea on truckers can be profound. The symptoms of sleep apnea, such as excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating, can impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. Sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk of accidents, with some studies suggesting that drivers with untreated sleep apnea are two to seven times more likely to be involved in a crash.

OSA, if treated, does not prevent a professional driver from renewing or keeping his/her CDL. If your doctor has diagnosed, you with moderate to severe OSA, you are to voluntarily report your recent diagnosis to a medical examiner. The ME will find you medically unqualified to drive and then pull your CDL. Once you have proven the therapy prescribed, the therapy you have completed, and no other comorbidities (heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc., have poked their heads up, you can regain your medically qualified to drive status. The most common response for all diseases that FMCSA has not really addressed as a rule of thumb for a medical examiner is, “While FMCSA regulations do not specifically address sleep apnea, they do prescribe that a person with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any condition likely to interfere with their ability to drive safely cannot be medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce.” In other words, self-report.

How To Avoid Truck Driving Accidents Caused By Sleep Apnea?

Challenges in Diagnosis and Treatment

Despite the prevalence and risks associated with sleep apnea, many truck drivers are not properly diagnosed or treated for the condition. There are several reasons for this. One is the lack of awareness among drivers and healthcare providers about the signs and consequences of sleep apnea. They can lose their CDL if they are diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea. Another challenge is the logistical difficulties in accessing diagnosis and treatment, especially for truckers who spend long periods on the road.

Diagnosing sleep apnea typically involves a sleep study, which can be time-consuming and inconvenient for truck drivers. Additionally, treatment options such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which involves wearing a mask during sleep to keep the airway open, can be challenging for truckers to adhere to while on the road.

Recent advancements in testing for sleep apnea have improved. Now drivers can test for sleep apnea in their own homes during downtime between trips.

Addressing the problem

Addressing sleep apnea in the trucking industry requires a multi-faceted approach. This includes raising awareness among drivers and healthcare providers about the risks of sleep apnea and the importance of diagnosis and treatment. Employers can also play a role by implementing screening programs and providing resources for drivers to access diagnosis and treatment.

Regulatory bodies can also take steps to address sleep apnea in the trucking industry. For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in the United States has no guidelines in place requiring commercial drivers to undergo screening for sleep apnea. The process is self reporting. Once a doctor has diagnosed you with moderate to severe sleep apnea, you are to contact a medical examiner to determine your fitness to operate a commercial motor vehicle and to get help with treatment.

What are the recommendations for motor carriers that have employees diagnosed with sleep apnea?” A motor carrier may not require or permit a driver to operate a CMV if the driver has a condition—including sleep apnea—that would affect his or her ability to safely operate the vehicle.

It is critical that people with sleep apnea fully use the treatment provided by their doctor. They should not drive if they are not being treated. Being effectively treated, and complying with that treatment, offers the best hope for a commercial driver with sleep apnea to secure the ability to do his or her job safely and be fully alert.


Sleep apnea is a serious health issue that poses a significant risk to truck drivers and others on the road. Addressing sleep apnea in the trucking industry requires a collaborative effort involving drivers, employers, healthcare providers, and regulators. By raising awareness, improving access to diagnosis and treatment, and implementing effective policies, we can help ensure that truckers get the rest they need to stay safe on the road.

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