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Sleep Apnea and DOT Physical: Answers to Common Questions

March 18, 2024

Sleep Apnea and DOT Physical: Answers to Common Questions

Sleep apnea is a health issue for many, but truck drivers are becoming increasingly concerned that a sleep apnea diagnosis will prevent them from doing their job. In a study by the University of Pennsylvania and the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations, researchers found that almost 28 percent of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea. Is sleep apnea testing a part of the DOT Physical? Can the condition prevent you from receiving a commercial driver’s license (CDL)? Read below to find out.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea is a serious sleep disorder marked by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. These interruptions can last up to 10 seconds or more and can take place hundreds of times throughout the night.

During this time, the body’s respiratory efforts are disrupted, and the body is in a constant fight to breathe. As a result, sleep is fractured. Ultimately, the disorder prevents you from getting the proper air needed to remain in deep sleep and can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue, performance problems, and lack of concentration, all of which can affect your ability to drive.

Because sleep apnea prevents healthy sleep, it can also put you at risk for future medical conditions, such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and cancer. Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition that often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed.

Can Sleep Apnea Prevent You from Obtaining a CDL?

People who experience symptoms of sleep apnea (e.g. tiredness) may not realize how much their driving is affected, which is why undiagnosed sleep apnea is a huge concern for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Although FMCSA regulations do not specifically address sleep apnea, it does state that an individual with a clinical diagnosis of a condition that could interfere with their ability to drive safely can’t be medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.

In this case, if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you are deemed no longer able to safely drive and may have your CDL suspended until you seek treatment.

However, once you receive successful treatment, you can then qualify for “medically-qualified-to-drive” status and will be able to reapply for your CDL. It’s important to note that most sleep apnea cases can be successfully treated.

Does a DOT Physical Require Sleep Apnea Testing?

There are currently no laws requiring a DOT physical for sleep apnea. However, DOT does require a medical examination for drivers to receive and maintain a CDL license.

During the examination, a medical examiner will determine if you require sleep apnea testing. It’s up to the medical examiner to determine whether or not your health condition can interfere with your driving.

If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea and refuse treatment, you will not be cleared to resume regular truck driving. If you accept treatment, you will be able to choose from a range of options to help treat your condition. It should be noted that plenty of truck drivers are able to perform their jobs even with sleep apnea so long as it’s treated.

Treatment Options

Treatment options vary. For mild cases, treatment could range from losing weight to over-the-counter remedies (e.g., dental guard). For moderate or severe cases, the most common treatment option is the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, which consists of a mask and nosepiece that deliver steady air pressure while sleeping.

Learn More About Sleep Apnea and DOT Physical

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