Are You Familiar With Sleep Apnea?
In case you are not familiar with “obstructive sleep apnea” (OSA), here’s a brief explanation. OSA occurs when one is asleep and the soft palate and/or tongue falls against the back of the throat to the point that it partially or completely obstructs the airway. The person is trying to breathe but their airway is obstructed. During this time the oxygen level in the blood is dropping, which is of course very disturbing to the body and causes one to begin to awaken. Most patients with OSA don’t wake up completely, but they are aroused enough that the muscle tone returns to the back of their throat and their airway opens up and they breathe again. This cycle repeats itself throughout the night. The obstruction of the airway and drop in oxygen disturbs the body enough that the individual never gets into the deeper phases of sleep where effective rest occurs. As a result they are not as alert the next day.
The section in the Federal Regulations that addresses sleep apnea and drivers of commercial motor vehicles follows:
A person is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if that person has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with the ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely. Since a driver must be alert at all times, any change in his or her mental state is in direct conflict with highway safety. Even the slightest impairment in respiratory function under emergency conditions (when greater oxygen supply is necessary for performance) may be detrimental to safe driving.
There are many conditions that interfere with oxygen exchange and may result in incapacitation, including emphysema, chronic asthma, carcinoma, tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis and sleep apnea. If the medical examiner detects a respiratory dysfunction, that in any way is likely to interfere with the driver’s ability to safely control and drive a commercial motor vehicle, the driver must be referred to a specialist for further evaluation and therapy.”