Healthy Sleep Habits Drive Transportation Safety

Jan 9, 2020 | Blog, Transportation

Working a nine-to-five is already incredibly exhausting. But imagine being a commercial truck driver working 14 hours a day sitting behind the wheel of a 50,000-pound machine. Sleep is incredibly important for everyone, but the risks of a bad night of sleep weigh a little differently when falling asleep at your desk becomes falling asleep at the wheel. Untreated sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) make it almost impossible to wake up feeling rested and approximately 1 billion people worldwide suffer from some degree of OSA. Within the US alone, a significant portion of the nation’s 3.5 million truck drivers have been diagnosed with and treated for OSA. But the concern remains with the many drivers who suffer in silence and have gone undiagnosed. Every day they go without treatment, they may be consuming limited healthcare resources from their employers in unnecessary excess to manage sleep-related conditions and illnesses. Furthermore, these drivers are at a substantially higher risk of potentially fatal drowsy driving accidents.

Americans spend a huge amount of time driving. Cumulatively, it adds up to 70 billion hours per year, with driving rates rising by 1.6% annually. With all that time on the road, it’s obvious that incidents and accidents cannot be avoided entirely. 100,000 car crashes occur just from fatigued driving every year. But those are 100,000 crashes that could be avoided each year with proper sleep health management.

The commercial transportation industry is incredibly important for both the average individual as well as the economy as a whole, with drivers responsible for delivering food, equipment, clothing, mail, and many other goods we rely on. The 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the US are frequently required to work up to 14 consecutive hours per day operating very heavy machinery. With more than 110,000 people injured and 5,000 people killed from crashes with commercial trucks each year, these drivers are at a much higher risk for involvement in an accident.

Because of this, trucking corporations hold substantial liability and have introduced many regulations for their drivers over the years in order to reduce accident frequency. These regulations include special training, physical exams every other year, abstaining from alcohol and drugs affecting their driving capabilities eight hours before their shift, maintaining logbooks of their work time, and mandatory scheduled breaks. While all these methods are important, none of them look at the quality of sleep a driver is getting on an individual level the night before a long shift.

Commercial drivers have a higher risk of suffering from OSA than the general population. Certain factors such as having a high BMI, being male, smoking, or having a thick neck puts one at greater risk of suffering from the disorder, and most drivers fill at least one criterion. Truck driving is not conducive to building healthy sleep habits and one sleep expert, Anthony Warren, even said that “to choose a lifestyle to give you sleep apnea, you choose to be a trucker.”

Because no nationwide regulations exist to mandate commercial drivers to undergo screening for OSA, the actual number of drivers with OSA is unknown. However, studies have estimated the number of drivers with sleep-disordered breathing at 59.6%, and the number with diagnosable OSA to be between 15.8% and 28.1%. Unfortunately, the American Sleep Association reports that having OSA increases the likelihood of motor vehicle accidents by 1.5 to 4.9 fold, making the possibilities for an accident even higher for a commercial driver. Not only are these drivers contributing to road danger, but they are consuming valuable health resources paid for by their respective operating companies that may not be treating the right problem.

Transportation companies have the opportunity to tap into massive potential healthcare savings through proactively testing and treating their employees for OSA. In the early 2010s, companies who screened and treated drivers for OSA were rewarded with a healthcare spending reduction ranging from $150 to $250 per member per month (PMPM). Another study from 2019 revealed one transportation company saved an average of $441 PMPM after treating their employees with OSA. As most trucking corporations employing between 15,000 and 25,000 drivers, the opportunity for cost savings is significant. Untreated OSA is known to cause or worsen the effects of heart disease, diabetes, depression, strokes, and many other diseases. Proactively treating OSA early on helps avoid having to treat, manage, and pay for these more severe and deadly diseases.

With healthcare costs climbing steadily, it only makes sense for companies providing health resources and services to their employees to promote savings in every area possible. The data is proof that the timely intervention of OSA can enable a significant reduction in long-term healthcare spending. If healthcare savings do not seem to speak to the urgency of addressing OSA in drivers, the potential for saving life, money, and property by reducing drowsy driving accidents definitely should. In a 2005 study involving 348 drivers, OSA treatment resulted not only in a 47.8% reduction in PMPM healthcare spending but a 73% reduction in preventable driving accidents. Because sleep disorders are often misunderstood or misdiagnosed, understanding how to correctly treat and manage a driver’s sleep habits is a key component in driving cost savings and improving road safety.

Somnology has developed a full turnkey sleep health program, known as SLaaS® (Sleep Lab as a Service), for the management of sleep health and sleep disorders. It is designed to help corporations in the transportation sector and beyond reduce their healthcare spending and provide insights to their employees about their sleep health. The model is simple: each employee gets a telehealth consultation from a sleep specialist and a sleep monitor device for self-testing. The program provides employees with a comprehensive solution to assessing, monitoring, and caring for sleep and breathing disorders, whether they are at home or on-the-go—no hospital visits required. These insights promote a well-rested workforce that avoids drowsy driving, contributing to road safety, productivity, and happiness. For transportation companies, the savings in life, money, and property through a reduction in road accidents are ever more significant.