How to Protect Commercial Drivers with Sleep Apnea

Anna Kleiner

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea. It happens when the muscles in your throat relax so much during sleep that you can’t breathe properly. This alerts your brain that something’s wrong, so it wakes you up. Usually this mental wake-up call is so short that you don’t even remember it, but it doesn’t just happen once. Your brain can do this up to 30 times an hour all night long.

When you’re constantly waking up all night long, it doesn’t matter how much sleep you get—you’re still going to wake up tired. Because many people with sleep apnea don’t even remember waking up, they may go years without knowing that they have OSA. They may blame their fatigue on something else, like stress or long hours at work, and just write it off.

For some jobs, tiredness is annoying and can reduce productivity, but it isn’t dangerous. The same isn’t true for commercial drivers, who operate heavy machinery every day. To protect themselves and the public, commercial drivers are required to be fully engaged and alert on the job—and the sleep deprivation caused by OSA can lead to serious cognitive impairment. On the road, this can have deadly consequences.

Because of this, Department of Transportation (DOT) examinations include screenings for sleep apnea. During a DOT exam, medical examiners will ask a driver if they have respiratory or sleep disorders that could impact their ability to handle a commercial vehicle. They’ll also look for sleep apnea risk factors, including:


Overweight people are more likely to experience sleep apnea than people at a healthy weight, because fat deposits surrounding the upper airway can obstruct breathing.

Neck circumference

A thicker neck often means narrower airways. Men with a neck circumference of more than 17 inches and women with a neck circumference over 16 inches are considered to be at higher risk of sleep apnea.


Studies have shown that smokers are at high risk of obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, one study found that smokers were more than 2 times likelier to have OSA than non-smokers and former smokers.

Family history

If you have a family member with sleep apnea, you’re more likely to have it, too.

Sex and age

Men are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than women. As we age, our risk of OSA also increases.  

Concentra Sleep Evaluations 

Concentra medical examiners conduct a sleep apnea evaluation with our Sleep Evaluation questionnaire, which records the driver’s medical conditions, determines level of sleepiness, and measures body mass index (BMI), neck circumference, and airway anatomy.

Depending on the driver’s answers and risk factors, the medical examiner may recommend a sleep study to find out if the driver has OSA or not. If they do, they’ll refer the driver for a sleep evaluation, such as an in-home sleep test or an in-lab test.

If you’re concerned that your drivers may have OSA and may need a sleep evaluation outside of their DOT physical, contact one of our DOT experts. We’ll talk with you about the right option for your workforce.

For more information on health-related trends in the trucking industry, download our whitepaper: "DOT Regulations: Addressing the rapid rate of change in the DOT-regulated world"