Sleep apnea is a common but serious disorder, especially in those who are overweight. Those with sleep apnea either stop breathing or only take shallow breaths, or takes pauses in their breathing, up to 20-30 times an hour.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. With obstructive sleep apnea, you are unable to get enough air through your nose and mouth. When that happens, the amount of oxygen in your blood may drop. Normal breaths resume with a snort or choking sound. People with sleep apnea often snore loudly. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.
When your sleep is interrupted throughout the night, you can be drowsy during the day. People with sleep apnea are at higher risk for car crashes, work-related accidents and other medical problems.
According to Harvard Medical School Professor Charles Czeisler, the crash risk for a person with sleep apnea is 242% higher than a person without it.
It is estimated that 30-40% of truckers have sleep apnea. The condition can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
“Fatigue and driver health are two serious issues facing the trucking industry,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said. “However, as important as it is to address those issues, it is equally important for the federal government to use the regulatory process – with its emphasis on science-based outcomes and cost-benefit analyses.”
Last year, the FMCSA and the Medical Review Board recommended truckers with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher, be tested for sleep apnea.
Each state sets its own medical standards for driving a commercial motor vehicle in intrastate commerce. Many States have adopted the medical regulations found under Section 391.41(b)(5) of the FMCSRs and have determined that sleep apnea is a disqualifying condition. Each State has the jurisdictional authority to suspend a CDL if a person has sleep apnea. Medical examiners and CMV drivers should check with their Department of Motor Vehicles for more information about medical standards in their State.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more common of the two forms of apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
- Central sleep apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center.
Am I at Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, even children. Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- Being male
- Being overweight
- Being over age 40
- Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
- Having large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jaw bone
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD
- Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems
What Are the Effects of Sleep Apnea?
If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a growing number of health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure, irregular heart beats, and heart attacks
- Worsening of ADHD
In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities, such as at work and school, motor vehicle crashes, and academic underachievement in children and adolescents.
Common sleep apnea symptoms include:
- Waking up with a very sore and/or dry throat
- Loud snoring
- Occasionally waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
- Sleepiness or lack of energy during the day
- Sleepiness while driving
- Morning headaches
- Restless sleep
- Forgetfulness, mood changes, and a decreased interest in sex
- Recurrent awakenings or insomnia
Treating Sleep Apnea at Home
In mild cases of sleep apnea, you may be able to treat it by changing your behavior, such as:
- Losing weight
- Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills
- Changing sleep positions to improve breathing
- Stopping smoking. Smoking can increase the swelling in the upper airway, which may worsen both snoring and apnea.
- Avoiding sleeping on your back
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
Continuous positive airway pressure — also called CPAP — is a treatment in which a mask is worn over the nose and/or mouth while you sleep. The mask is hooked up to a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air into the nose. This air flow helps keep the airways open so that breathing is regular. CPAP is considered by many experts to be the most effective treatment for sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea and Dental Devices
Dental devices can be made that help keep the airway open during sleep. Such devices can be specifically designed by dentists with special expertise in treating sleep apnea.
Surgery for Sleep Apnea
If you have a deviated nasal septum, enlarged tonsils, or a small lower jaw with an overbite causing the throat to be too narrow, surgery may be needed to correct sleep apnea.
The most commonly performed types of surgery for sleep apnea include:
- Nasal surgery: Correction of nasal problems such as a deviated septum.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): A procedure that removes soft tissue on the back of the throat and palate, increasing the width of the airway at the opening of throat.
- Mandibular maxillar advancement surgery: Surgery to correct certain facial problems or throat obstructions that contribute to sleep apnea.
Other Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
There are minimally invasive office procedures that reduce and stiffen the soft tissue of the soft palate. While these procedures have been effective in treating snoring, their effectiveness in treating sleep apnea in the long term isn’t known.
Throat exercises to reduce sleep apnea
Studies show that throat exercises may reduce the severity of sleep apnea by strengthening the muscles in airway, making them less likely to collapse.
- Press tongue flat against the floor of mouth and brush top and sides with toothbrush. Repeat brushing movement 5 times, 3 times a day.
- Press length of tongue to roof of mouth and hold for 3 minutes a day.
- Place finger into one side of mouth. Hold finger against cheek while pulling cheek muscle in at same time. Repeat 10 times then rest and alternate sides. Repeat sequence 3 times.
- Purse lips as if to kiss. Hold lips tightly together and move them up and to the right the up and to the left 10 times. Repeat sequence 3 times.
- Place lips on a balloon. Take a deep breath through your nose then blow out through your mouth to inflate balloon as much as possible. Repeat 5 times without removing balloon from mouth.