Of all the issues faced by a courier driver, fatigue is one of the most prevalent. But beyond compliance to legislation (regarding appropriate breaks and rest periods while on the road), sometimes the problem can actually be a physical one.
Sleep apnoea is far more common than you might think and, due to the nature of the profession, a courier driveris more likely to develop the condition than some other demographics. But the good news is that, with treatment, sufferers can be safely back to work in a relatively short space of time.
What is Sleep Apnoea?
Although the condition is more common in men (sorry guys), women do certainly suffer from it as well. Put simply, sleep apnoea is when a person stops breathing during sleep periods. Many people are not even aware they are suffering from it (simply because they’re asleep!), but it can occur many times throughout the night, and periods of non-breathing can last for up to a minute. Here’s the shocker: the most common type is labelled “obstructive sleep apnoea” (OSA) and its characteristic symptom is…snoring, which happens because the airway is blocked, resulting in vibrations.
Fact: Up to 80-90% of people suffering mild to serious OSA are not diagnosed.
Potential Impact for a Courier Driver
Long hours out on the road often mean poor nutrition choices, leading to a problem of obesity – which is a major factor in OSA. Being a courier driver means needing to maintain an optimum driving ability in what are often quite stressful traffic conditions, so it’s imperative the condition is recognised and treated as a priority.
The effects of OSA include:
· Drowsiness during the day, leading to unsafe driving capabilities
· Constant fatigue, feeling tired even after sleep
· Poor concentration leading to lack of focus while driving
· Affect on cognitive abilities - braking, decision making, etc
Aside from rendering someone unfit to be in control of a motor vehicle, the long term ramifications if left untreated are serious, including: heart failure, coronary artery disease, hypertension and many others.
Treatments and Success
For those who have a diagnosis of OCA, the prognosis is generally good as the available treatments have a high rate of success. If you think you may have OSA, the first step is to see your GP who will most likely suggest a combination of lifestyle changes and CPAP therapy.
Lifestyle changes: The most common changes prescribed by a doctor are to lose weight, avoid sleep medication and limit your alcohol intake – all of which have been proven to improve the symptoms of OCA. While the jury’s still out on whether giving up smoking can help, there are plenty of other health reasons to do so – so why wouldn’t you try?
CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure is the most effective treatment prescribed by doctors. It involves the use of a face mask and small pump device to deliver a steady flow of compressed air, which keeps the throat open. It may feel unnatural at first, and users may suffer the discomfort of side effects like nasal congestion, headaches and ear pain, but overall it is an extremely common and successful treatment.
Other treatments: In some cases, mild sufferers may be fitted with an MAD (mandibular advancement device), which serves to hold the tongue and jaw forward in order to keep the throat open while sleeping. And, far less commonly, surgery may be a last resort, in the form of a tonsillectomy, tracheostomy or bariatric surgery for weight loss.
Keep Calm and Courier On
Raising awareness of OCA is a fairly high profile issue in the transport industry,and some larger companies are considering enforcing regular screening for all their drivers. But anyone who suspects they may be suffering from the condition can take heart that, in the majority of cases, a courier driver can receive treatment, make positive lifestyle changes and be back out on the road in no time.
Norman Dulwich is a correspondent for Courier Exchange, the world's largest neutral trading hub for same day courier driver jobs in the express freight exchange industry. Over 5,300 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.