Sleep Apnea and Truck Drivers: Does Your Snore Mean More?

Does it sound like your sawing logs when you're catching zzzs? You might have sleep apnea. Learn more about how this common condition can impact life on the road.


ABCO Transportation
August 6, 2021
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Are you a truck driver who is chronically tired even after getting enough rest, or has someone you know complained about what they feel to be loud or excessive snoring? This can be a case where your snore does indeed mean more. 

Truck drivers with sleep apnea — which is sudden stops in breathing during sleep — should see a doctor to find the source and learn what they can do to fix it. There are no Department of Transportation (DOT) laws directly regarding it, but drivers are required to pass physicals that sleep apnea can impact. Keep reading to learn more. 

Do you think your snore means more? It could be a sign of sleep apnea, which itself can be responsible for a host of maladies and also impact your ability to safely drive. So how do you find out if you suffer from sleep apnea and protect yourself and others on the road if you do?  

What is Sleep Apnea?


Whether it’s yourself or someone you’ve shared a room with, we all know someone who has suffered (or made you suffer) from their snoring. Snoring by itself doesn’t always denote a serious issue but it is caused by a very specific issue — the restriction of air able to flow during sleep as you breathe in and out.

Sleep apnea is a more serious condition where a person ceases to breathe repeatedly throughout a night’s sleep. This can happen up to 5 times an hour, and even more in serious cases. It can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension), increase risk of heart attack or stroke, heart arrhythmia and even sudden death while asleep.

But that’s not where the list of possible ailments caused by sleep apnea ends. General fatigue (or feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep), diabetes, liver issues and additional difficulties relating to medications and needed surgeries are all possible indications as well.

Those who suffer from sleep apnea can have a weakened immune system and are more prone to depression, memory loss, asthma and other breathing issues. So it’s simple to see why untreated sleep apnea would be something to get taken care of. But before you just think you have sleep apnea, you’ll have to have it determined on which kind you may have. 

There are three different types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) — This kind of apnea results when the airway becomes blocked because the mouth palate and throat muscles relax and collapse.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) — This type of sleeping disorder has nothing to do with a blocked airway. Instead, it’s when the brain ceases to send the signals that help you involuntarily breathe while you’re asleep 

Mixed sleep apnea (MSA) — This is a mixture of OSA and CSA.

So there’s no one kind of sleep apnea, or just one symptom that denotes you have it. If you suspect that you’re experiencing health issues because of a lack of good sleep and/or excessive snoring, it could be related to sleep apnea.

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Additional Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The major symptoms of sleep apnea were just mentioned but there are still more that can be a product of its affliction. Those include:

  • Nausea and headaches upon waking
  • Impotence (in men) and loss of sex drive
  • Irritability
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Getting up at night excessively to urinate

Again, this is why it’s crucial to be seen by a doctor since these symptoms are not exclusive to sleep apnea.

Does Snoring Mean You Have Sleep Apnea?


Snoring does not automatically mean you have sleep apnea, as long as it is not accompanied by any of the other aforementioned symptoms, which might be signs that sleep apnea is afflicting you. 

Still, if you don’t feel at your best for any reason and know yourself or have been told by others that you’re a heavy snorer, or periodically stop breathing during sleeping, however briefly, it’s really important to protect your own health and well-being by getting checked out by a medical professional.

So in conclusion, snoring doesn’t mean you definitely suffer from sleep apnea but if your breathing is stopping while you sleep or if any of the other factors previously mentioned affect you, the two could be related.  

Why Do Truckers Have Sleep Apnea?

As time has gone on, truck drivers are much more likely than the average person to come down with sleep apnea — about 11 times, to be exact. With that in mind, it’s beneficial to understand certain characteristics that may help explain this large disparity.

Unfortunately, as a result of the line of work truck drivers are in, it can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler for hours at a time, combined with a lack of exercise and proper nutrition, can make it easy to become overweight. As you’ll see in some of the risk factors below, being overweight can have a direct link with the onset of sleep apnea (along with other ailments that in turn can further exacerbate sleep apnea — talk about a vicious cycle).

Risk factors (meaning those who could be predisposed to sleep apnea) include:

  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Certain facial features such as a sizable overbite, recessed chin or small jaw
  • A small airway
  • Other family members suffering from sleep apnea (hereditary)
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Use of tobacco or alcohol
  • Being over the age of 40
  • A large neck size (which is considered 16 inches or more for women, 17 inches or more for men)

While you cannot control factors like your ethnicity, age or family history, the rest can be mitigated to some degree through lifestyle changes or medical procedures. Next, we’ll discuss ways that sleep apnea can be possibly cured.


Can Sleep Apnea Be Cured?


The initial thing to do when dealing with sleep apnea would be to consult with a licensed physician. He or she would more easily be able to pinpoint the exact kind of apnea you suffer from and also offer possible treatments for sleep apnea. In fact, this might even happen during a routine physical mandated by the DOT in order to retain your commercial license if the physician gets results that cause them to probe deeper.

One of the first things that might be requested by the physician if it’s thought that you’re suffering from the condition is a sleep study (medically known as polysomnography). This is where you go to the office or medical setting of a sleep specialist and are monitored with equipment while you sleep. This can either confirm or rule out whether you’re ailed by any sleep disorder.

Lose Weight

Unless a physical feature a truck driver has is found to be the issue, a doctor will probably urge losing weight and exercising as the first line of defense. According to, nearly 50 percent of all people experiencing sleep apnea are considered to be overweight. Losing weight will make a person healthier overall and also have the added effect of reducing a person’s neck size, which can be a product of being overweight. You can actually lose weight in your neck!

The weight loss doesn’t have to be a crazy amount either. Just a few lost pounds can ease the strain on your body. It can also alleviate or even eliminate other health issues associated with sleep apnea such as diabetes or hypertension.

Stop Smoking and Drinking

Besides being considered “vices”, smoking tobacco products and drinking alcohol can both have effects on your airway that can lead to sleep apnea.

Smoking, for instance, restricts the upper airway by causing excessive swelling. When combined with the toll taken on a person’s lungs from smoking, it’s not hard to see how this can start up snoring and sleep apnea.

Changing Your Sleeping Position

While this is not a “cure”, another suggestion to lessen the possibility of sleep apnea causing you to stop breathing will be to sleep on your side. This decreases the chance of your airway narrowing while sleeping, which in turn will keep you breathing more easily by increasing your oxygen level.

As a slightly more involved method, some people will put a tennis ball or two into a sock and secure it to the back of their shirt while sleeping. This trick will prevent you from rolling onto your back — or at least wake you up if you do.   

Use a CPAP Machine

If you’re suffering from something more serious than mild sleep apnea and some of the above suggestions aren’t helping solve your labored breathing, the next step could very well be using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.

This involves wearing a mask over your nose (and/or the mouth) during sleep. The machine works by keeping a consistent flow of air through your airways so you can respirate normally. This is an extremely common method of treating sleep apnea and can vastly improve your quality of sleep and health.

If a CPAP isn’t solving the problem, there are two other types of machines that might also work:

  1. Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP)
  2. Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP)

Both the CPAP and BiPAP help normalize your breathing but use different ways to do so. The APAP works by propping open your airway to basically unblock it. The other way it differs from a CPAP is it will provide the correct pressure automatically based on what it senses you require while the CPAP is a regulated, constant flow of the same air pressure.

The BiPAP is more similar to a CPAP than a APAP is but the one major difference is the pressure varies based on whether you’re breathing in or out. The effect this has is by pushing air into your lungs, which will help you breathe while sleeping.   

Control Your Allergies

Believe it or not, when the flowers bloom and pollen is in the air, your nasal or sinus allergies can do more than irritate you — combined with other factors, they can be part of the cause of your sleep apnea.

When you mix clogged sinuses with a narrowed airway, that’s a recipe for potential disaster. Under the care of a doctor, he or she can prescribe you over-the-counter medication or even just recommend something right off the shelf.

Dental or Medical Intervention

There are a lot of things that can be done via dental or medical surgery to permanently fix a part of a person’s anatomy to completely banish sleep apnea from the bedroom (or sleeper cab). But this type of treatment is usually suggested when all of the other options have been exhausted and the problem still persists.

The types of surgeries can range from a dentist doing some work on the palate in your mouth to facial skeletal surgery. It could also include a tracheostomy, where a surgeon permanently creates an opening from your neck to your windpipe.

While there are certainly very skilled medical professionals who can perform these operations, none of them are 100 percent effective. So you’ll have to weigh the cost and recovery time you’ll certainly encounter with the desire for relief that isn’t a guarantee.    

Can You Still Drive A Truck With Sleep Apnea?


Sleep apnea doesn’t mean you have to give up your trucking career. However, there is a caveat to this statement: you can — as long as you’re diagnosed with it and also accept and implement the treatment options.

If you have any medical diagnosis that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) believes will impact your ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), they will not clear you to drive. So while there’s no exact law dealing with sleep apnea, the condition could sideline you if you choose to let it go untreated, or even if the treatment you choose ends up being ineffective.

If you allow your sleep apnea to continue untreated, you are greatly increasing the risk of being involved in an auto accident while driving. This is specifically because sleep apnea can dramatically impact your alertness and concentration, even during the day. It can also cause you to fatigue very easily, compromising your ability to effectively deliver loads of freight.

A regular sleeping schedule is also infinitely important. While most truckers might laugh at that because of the demands of the industry. Still there are rules in place — such as needing 10 consecutive hours off duty before you can drive a shift of 12 straight hours — in place for protection. It’s up to truck drivers to in turn protect their own health by properly combating sleep apnea and adhering to some semblance of a sleeping schedule. 

Does The DOT Require A Sleep Apnea Test?

The DOT does not require its drivers to specifically be tested for sleep apnea at all. But if you thought the answer would be that easy, hold on a second. You might not fail a DOT physical because of sleep apnea but some of the conditions that sleep apnea can bring on.

Those include issues like unregulated diabetes and blood pressure. Basically, if you’re allowing medical issues which include sleep apnea to not be treated, there’s a high likelihood that the DOT won’t deem you worthy of being on the road.

Does Sleep Apnea Reduce Life Expectancy?


It should be of no surprise — especially if you’ve gotten this far — that sleep apnea can absolutely, unequivocally reduce a person’s life expectancy. Now, don’t mistake this for a scare tactic but when you stop breathing for prolonged periods of time, it can affect your ability to stay alive.

Even if you don’t pass away in your sleep because of sleep apnea, all of the other health issues it can lead to — and were previously discussed — can be impediments that will reduce the number of years a person who would otherwise be healthy would have a reasonable expectation. That’s why it’s really imperative for your own well-being to do everything you can to either eliminate or vastly reduce sleep apnea.

Dealing with Sleep Apnea While Driving With ABCO Transportation

With the proper treatment and mindfulness, sleep apnea doesn’t have to sideline truck drivers. So with that in mind, make sure you’re getting the most out of your profession by choosing a career with ABCO Transportation. We offer competitive pay, great benefits and an emphasis on work-life balance so you can be fulfilled on and off the road.

ABCO Transportation supports its drivers fully no matter what route is being driven and you won’t have to wait very long to hit the road once you get hired either. That’s because our driver orientation is only about a 2-day process, so you’ll be behind the wheel in very little time.

So if you’re ready for a positive career path or career change, contact ABCO Transportation to find out how you can become a member of our team by calling (866) 980-2710.

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