Driving with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

In the United States, drowsy driving has become a major issue. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), more than 6,400 fatal drowsy driving crashes occur each year.[1] In all modes of transportation – including air, rail, bus, and maritime operations – Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is common among commercial vehicle operators (CVOs). While OSA is a common disorder that is both identifiable and treatable, when left untreated, serious safety, health, and financial implications can occur.

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

According to a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations, nearly one-third (28%) of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea.[1]  


OSA, Sleep Apnea, Sleep Dentist, Snoring
A driver is shown yawning behind the wheel

Because sleep apnea affects drivers’ sleep, it also affects daytime alertness and performance. Untreated sleep apnea can make it difficult for operators of vehicles to stay awake, focus their eyes, and react quickly while driving. Among other serious health conditions, OSA is associated with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, and impaired neurocognitive function.

Driving while drowsy is alarmingly common: more than half of U.S. adult drivers admit to consistently getting behind the wheel while feeling drowsy, and approximately 37% admit to having fallen asleep behind the wheel.[1]

So, how do drivers – especially those in the transportation industry, such as truck drivers – handle sleep apnea?

Driving with Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Education, screening, prompt identification and treatment, and ongoing surveillance to ensure effective therapy can lower the risk of fatigue-related crashes. If an individual is experiencing consistent fatigue, a sleep test – also known as a sleep study, or a polysomnogram – is used to diagnose sleep disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Based on signs and symptoms, as well as sleep history and feedback from a bed partner and/or household members, a sleep test is arranged by a patient’s physician. It can also be prescribed by a sleep specialist referred by a patient’s preferred sleep dentist.

If a commercial driver receives a positive diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), they and/or their doctor can contact the medical qualifying examiner to determine fitness to operate a commercial motor vehicle and to get help with treatment. It’s critical that individuals diagnosed with sleep apnea fully adhere to the treatment provided by their doctor.

Types of Sleep Apnea Treatment To Prevent Drowsy Driving

 One well-known treatment method for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is CPAP therapy, where constant and steady air pressure is provided to patients to help patients breathe while asleep. Although this treatment method is highly effective, particularly for severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), it doesn’t work for everyone.

For patients who are exploring primary mild to moderate OSA treatment options, and/or for those patients who have a hard time tolerating or adhering to CPAP therapy, they may find Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT) to be their preferred treatment choice.

SomnoMed’s custom oral appliances are molded for a precise fit to a patient’s teeth, both upper and lower. The appliance on the upper teeth serves as a fixed frame against which the lower jaw can be moved forward. This allows for the jaw to advance incrementally until there is an ideal balance between the back of the tongue and the soft tissues of the throat, keeping a person’s airway open while they sleep and effectively treating sleep apnea. An effective oral appliance is one that’s so comfortable, it will be worn by patients all night, and wearing a SomnoDent® Avant, for example, is comfort on a completely different scale

A sleep dentist holds up a SomnoDent® Avant.

It’s important to note that oral appliances like SomnoMed’s are FDA-cleared medical devices intended to treat the medical condition of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). As such, they are usually covered under most medical insurance plans, including Medicare. 

Remember, while driving, you don’t have to fall asleep at the wheel in order to have an accident. All it takes is to be inattentive or less alert — and with untreated sleep apnea, drivers are not as sharp as they should be.

Start your path to OSA treatment here: https://somnomed.com/en/find-a-dental-sleep-medicine-expert/

[1] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/drowsy-driving

[1] https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/sites/fmcsa.dot.gov/files/docs/Driving-Sleep-Apnea_508CLN.pdf

[1] https://www.nsc.org/road/safety-topics/fatigued-driver?