How Sleep Apnea Affects Drivers, Operators, and Train Conductors
On the 29th of September 2016, a transit train bound for New Jersey failed to stop at the station in Hoboken, New Jersey, costing the life of a female bystander and injuring several people. A few months later, the same incident occurred on January 2017 in Brooklyn which injured more than 100 people. Later findings have determined the cause of the accidents – both conductors fell asleep on duty, and sleep apnea is to blame. Unfortunately, cases of accidents due to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) aren’t rare. Over the past few years, there have been lots of documented incidents involving trucks, trains, and bus crashes due to operators falling asleep while on duty.
Two accidents that took place on 29th September 2016, a train bound for New Jersy and January 2017 in Brooklyn that severely injured many people. It was found that in both the accidents the driver on duty fell asleep due to sleep apnea. Such cases due to OSA are not rare. Many trucks, trains, bus and car accidents have occurred since the driver on duty falls asleep.
Certain set of skills such as spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination is required for driving. Lack of concentration can result in accidents. Around 20 percent of driving accidents have occurred due to connection between sleepiness and fatigue. Mostly these accidents in US have occurred in afternoon or at night when the concentration level has hit rock bottom.
Some lack of concentration occurs due to medical conditions. Over the past 20 years the traffic accidents due to sleep apnea have been documented. Many studies have shown that when the severity of OSA is high, accidents tends to occur. Ones sleep pattern is drastically affected by sleep apnea. This sleepiness is so excess that for OSA patients the road- related accident rates is higher.
However in sleep apnea which aspect of sleep disturbances is affects the driving skills is not yet fully confirmed. Since OSA affects sleep pattern it also affects alertness and performance during the day. The person may not be able to focus and stay awake if this condition is left untreated. Many patients say that while driving they do not fall asleep, however to get caught in an accident they need not fall asleep. Less attention, getting out of focus can also cause accidents.
Sleep apnea screening and treatment has been proposed by the metropolitan transportation authority. This is for all the train and bus conductors and engineers. In this the Body Mass Index of each employee is evaluated and regarding their sleep patterns and medical history questions are asked. Further examination is needed for those who are at risk and then a session on potential treatment.
In OSA for a period of time the patient ceases to breathe. There may be little or no airflow at that time when the person tries to breathe. It this condition is not treated then it can become life threatening. Some serious health issues caused by OSA are:
- High blood pressure
- Poor memory
- Heart disease
- Recurring headache
- Poor performance
Various factors may increase the risk of sleep apnea. These include obesity, smoking, alcohol, sedative use, old age, being male and neck circumference. If the airway is partially blocked while sleeping, air cannot flow properly. Due to this the blood oxygen level drops. If it significantly drops then it causes the brain to disturb sleep. This if happens repeatedly it may trigger stress hormone production. This will further cause various health issues.
In order to reduce the risk the person should lose weight, avoid smoking; on a regular basis do exercise.
- Regular sleep schedule- if you get yourself enough and adequate amount of sleep then the risk of sleep apnea will reduce. At least get yourself eight hours of sleep.
- Don’t take sedatives or sleeping pills- these relax the tissue in the upper airway thus when the person is asleep, breathing becomes difficult. Hence especially before bedtime avoid taking them.