How to Avoid Driver Fatigue if You Have Sleep Apnea

Drowsy driving is an umbrella term used to define any driving that is combined with sleepiness or fatigue. This usually happens when the driver has not slept enough or the quality of sleep is impaired due to untreated sleep disorders, medications, or alcohol impairment. An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 or older) have reportedly fallen asleep while driving in the past 30 days.1

Falling asleep behind the wheel is potentially deadly. However, even driving while fighting sleepiness makes drivers less able to pay attention to the road and slows reaction times.

According to the CDC, drivers with untreated sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), are more likely to drive drowsy.1

Will OSA Affect your Driving?

Left untreated, sleep deprivation caused by OSA can impact your ability to function. Sleep helps protect your metal and physician health and improve your quality of life. Lack of sleep leaves you irritable and exhausted and impairs your ability to focus and concentrate. This can affect your ability to pay attention to the road, react in a timely manner, and even may leave you falling asleep while at the wheel.

One recent study found that fatigue contributed to 12% of all motor vehicle accident and 10% of near-crashes.2Another study found that patients with OSA have a crash risk approximately 2.5 times that of individuals without sleep apnea.3

Can you Lose your License if you have Sleep Apnea?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) does not restrict drivers who have OSA.4However, while sleep apnea is not specifically mentioned, the FMCSA guidelines indicate that a person with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any condition that may interfere with the ability to drive safely cannot be medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.

The good news is that sleep apnea is treatable. Once on the appropriate therapy, drivers may be reinstated as medically-qualified to drive.

How do you Prevent Driver Fatigue?

Pay attention to warning signs and prevent driver fatigue whenever possible.
Warning signs include the following:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Trouble keeping your head upright and/or nodding off
  • Inability to focus on the road or road signs
  • Unable to keep eyes open, eyelids fluttering
  • Unable to recall driving the last few miles
  • Drifting into other lanes or onto the shoulder of the road
  • Missing exits, turns, traffic signals, or signs
  • Staying too close to the vehicle ahead of you
  • Yawning

If these signs persist, it may be time to be tested for sleep disorders. A diagnosis of OSA can only be confirmed after a sleep test is completed and a prescribing physician has reviewed the results. Today, with telemedicine and home sleep apnea testing, the diagnosis process is convenient and affordable. Simply schedule an initial telehealth physician consult, complete a home sleep apnea test in the convenience of your own home, and sign online for a second physician consult to review your results and receive a prescription for therapy. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is the gold standard for treating OSA as it is the most effective and least intrusive. Sleep experts can assist in recommending the right equipment and sleep coaching ensures a proper start to PAP therapy.

Once initiating treatment with a PAP machine, respiratory therapist Jose Acosta, CRT, says it takes at least 2 weeks to adjust to the new therapy and begin feeling the effects. Patients say they sleep for the first time in years and wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.

sleep apnea a disability

Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea a Disability?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not list OSA as a disability.5 However, several breathing disorders, heart problems, and other mental deficits are considered disabilities. If patients meet the criteria for one of the additional listings due to their sleep apnea, they would qualify for disability benefits.

Can Sleep Apnea be Cured?

There is no cure for sleep apnea. However, the condition can be treated and managed effectively through PAP therapy. PAP therapy requires the use of a machine that delivers pressurized air via mask throughout the night to keep the airways open while a person sleeps. CPAP therapy is the least intrusive and most efficient method of treating sleep apnea. Technology keeps evolving and today’s masks and machines are lightweight, minimally obtrusive, quiet, and convenient to take on-the-go.

Does Sleep Apnea Affect Car Insurance?

OSA does not have a direct impact on your car insurance. However, if left untreated, sleep apnea affects daytime alertness and performance. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of motor vehicle accidents, which will impact your rates and eligibility.

Do I have to Stop Driving with Sleep Apnea?

No! When treated, sleep apnea is a manageable disorder and should not impact your ability to drive. For certain specialty licenses, you may be required to show proof of CPAP use to keep your license valid.

  1. George C. Sleep apnea, alertness, and motor vehicle crashes..Amer J Resp Crit Care Med. 2007 Nov;176(10):954-6.
  2. Gottlieb D, Ellenbogen J, Bianchi M, Czeisler C. Sleep deficiency and motor vehicle crash risk in the general population: a prospective cohort study.BMC Med. 2018 Mar;44.
  3. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Driving when you have sleep apnea Accessed October 2019.
  4. Social Security Administration. Sleep apnea and social security disability.. Accessed October 2019.