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Why Shift Workers with OSA May Be at Risk


Anyone who's done evening shift work or lived with someone who works night shifts knows the physical impact laboring during those hours can have on the body. Shift workers—anyone who works outside the normal hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.—are at a higher risk of several health problems, like heart disease, obesity, back pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), depression, cognitive issues, and sleep problems, according to studies. Common professions that work the night shift include truck drivers, train engineers, pilots, boat captains and workers, nurses/medical staff, and law enforcement.


It's estimated that over 14 million Americans work the night shift or third shift that goes from about 11 at night until 7 in the morning. Many of them have trouble sleeping and they're more likely to feel extreme daytime sleepiness—even if they are logging some sleep when they get home from work, according to the National Sleep Foundation.


In America, many of these industries don't require sleep apnea testing as part of the hiring process. But is something certain fields, like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) may consider screening for in the future. Nearly one third of commercial truck drivers were found to have mild to severe sleep apnea, according to a study done by University of Pennsylvania and sponsored by FMCSA and the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations. Untreated sleep apnea makes it difficult to stay awake, alert and react quickly. Click here for more on why driving makes you drowsy.


Even if shift workers with sleep apnea aren't falling asleep on the job, they may be less attentive and alert from sleepiness/fatigue, which can be a potentially alarming situation in many of these professions.


Shift workers who already have OSA and sleep during daylight hours may experience even worse negative health effects than those who have OSA but regularly sleep at night, according to research. In fact, that 2011 study recommended people with OSA if not effectively treated should avoid evening shift work.


Other research found that people with OSA did poorly on neurocognitive tasks, simulated driving, and had more "altered moods" than shift workers who weren't diagnosed with OSA.


If sleep apnea is left untreated, it can lead to a host of health problems, like an increased risk of heart attacks, as well as extreme fatigue that can lead to drowsy driving and accidents, on the job or while you're driving to and from work.


Shift workers who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea by their doctors may not be able to continue to work in their field until their OSA is treated. Luckily, sleep apnea is very treatable with sleep apnea devices, like CPAP therapy.

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