Fit for the Road
Trucking Wakes Up to Problem
Industry coming to grips with long-term health consequences of sleep apnea
Tony Guzman, an owner-operator leased to Prime Inc., was having a hard time making it through most driving shifts without a nap, despite often sleeping through and beyond the end of the required 10-hour rest.
“I was always exhausted,” Guzman says. “I couldn’t get through the day. I would sleep 10 or 12 hours, and it wouldn’t be enough. I would have to pull over 200 or 300 miles down the road and sleep some more and keep going that way.”
Fellow Prime driver James Stitt of Charlotte, N.C., has a similar story. He would wake up feeling tired, moody and suffering from headaches. “I would wake up aching and just didn’t feel good at all,” Stitt says.
Last year Prime screened both drivers and set them up for a sleep study at the Springfield, Mo., company’s offsite sleep lab. Neither driver was happy about it.
“The drivers sometimes get angry when we tell them they have to be tested,” says John Hancock, director of driver training at Prime. “We get them to talk to other drivers who have been diagnosed and are being treated.”
“Some guys quit,” adds Don Lacy, Prime safety director, who also suffers from sleep apnea. “What makes up for it is when a driver comes to you and says, ‘You saved my life.’”
The attitude changes almost immediately when a driver with sleep apnea begins treatment using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.
“Every time I use the machine, I wake up with a lot more energy,” Guzman says. “It just makes it a better day. Now I get my job done quicker without all the quirks of having to stop to sleep for four or five hours during the day.”
What is sleep apnea?
Apnea is a Greek word that means “without breath.” There are three kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form, is caused by a blockage of the airway that usually occurs when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep. Symptoms often include loud snoring, restless sleep and sleepiness during the day.
Central sleep apnea (CSA) is not caused by a blocked airway but when the brain temporarily fails to signal the muscles to breathe.