How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Health
“I had suffered from daytime fatigue and snoring for years. I would struggle to stay awake at work, and sometimes I found myself falling asleep while driving as well,” says Doug, a patient at the Koala® Center for Sleep and TMJ Disorders .
It’s a familiar story. Most of us can relate to feeling sluggish at work or even on the road. The truth is that Americans do not sleep enough, but we often fail to consider the potential consequences of our sleeplessness. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), quality sleep helps us to think more clearly, recall information and make decisions. When we fail to get that sleep, we may be less focused and productive at work. Lack of sleep also slows reaction time, making dangerous driving more likely as well.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 100,000 fatigue-related crashes occur every year, and many of these involve commercial drivers. The long distances commercial drivers cover, often at night, make them more susceptible to falling asleep at the wheel. However, poor sleep can be a risk in other workplaces as well. The National Transportation Safety Board has examined the impact of sleep deprivation on air traffic controllers, pilots and shift workers, to name a few.
Those with sleep disorders, such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), are at even greater risk. OSA is a serious disorder, often accompanied by loud snoring, in which breathing stops and restarts repeatedly during sleep. Warning signs of OSA may include headaches, high blood pressure, daytime sleepiness, insomnia, diabetes, depression and more. Because OSA results in poor sleep, it impacts alertness and performance. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) notes that people with untreated sleep apnea are at greater risk of being involved in a fatigue-related crash.
In fact, the FMCSA is pushing to require all commercial truckers, bus drivers and rail workers to be screened for OSA. Airline pilots are already required to be tested for the disorder. This push came in part as a response to a 2013 deadly train derailment in New York. After the fact, the train engineer, who had never had a sleep study, was found to have severe sleep apnea. In addition, a study sponsored by the FMCSA found almost a third of commercial truck drivers to have sleep apnea.
The good news is that when diagnosed and treated, sleep apnea can be controlled, and many accidents could be prevented. A sleep study can determine if you have sleep apnea and what its severity is. A number of treatment options exist, including lifestyle changes, surgery, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) and Oral Appliance Therapy.
Doctors at the Koala® Center for Sleep and TMJ Disorders were able to help Doug by fitting him with an oral appliance, which holds the jaw in a position that allows the airway to remain as open and firm as possible during sleep, thus preventing snoring and interruptions in sleep. The appliance is similar to an athletic mouth guard but is less bulky. Additionally, it is covered by most insurance plans and Medicare. “The appliance has worked very well for me!” says Doug. “My wife gets more rest. I’m not falling asleep at work anymore, and more importantly I’m not falling asleep behind the wheel.”