The first-ever study on sleep apnea in the Canadian trucking industry is underway and researchers, the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, with BresoTec, are hopeful it will answer a lot of questions concerning the safety of our roads and drivers’ health, aims to resolve the problem with research surrounding sleep apnea from a Canadian standpoint.
According to scientists and researchers behind the study, there is currently no reliable research providing evidence on the severity of sleep apnea in the trucking industry here in Canada. To solve this issue, they proposed a study for which they need 1,000 truck driver participants to analyze the impact sleep apnea has on both the road and trucker health.
“It’s really important to get a handle on how significant the problem is,” said Dr. Geoff Fernie, research director at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. “Some of the (US) reports we were reading were really quite frightening. We weren’t sure if the same applied to Canadian long-haul truck drivers as it does in the United States. And so we want to find out within the industry how common it is, and see what affect it has on road accidents.”
Sleep apnea and trucking are no strangers. The two actually go hand-in-hand, because of the lifestyle and demographics of the trucking industry. Research has shown that sleep apnea is more prevalent in men and those with sedentary lifestyles.
“Because we’re aware of the problem with road accidents, we became very aware that truckers were perhaps particularly at risk for sleep apnea,” added Dr. Fernie. “There are reports in the literature, particularly in the United States, that a very high proportion of truckers have sleep apnea and that’s a worry to us.”
Though there is no official Canadian data yet Dr. Fernie said it is estimated that “roughly one in ten people have sleep apnea, but only 1 in 10 of those 1 in 10 really knows that they have it. That means 90% haven’t been diagnosed and that’s a problem because if you have sleep apnea and you’re not diagnosed, therefore not treated, you have four times the chance of having a heart attack or stroke and we’re not quite sure but somewhere around three or four times more likely to cause a road accident as well.”
Dr. Hisham Alshaer, a scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, added that the study will try to find the correlation between sleep apnea and road accidents.
“We also want to find out if those who have obstructive sleep apnea had some kind of car accident trigger in the past, so we want to find the link between obstructive sleep apnea and the record of vehicle accidents,” he said.
The Institute is currently seeking volunteers to be a part of the study, and has its eyes set on fleet managers and owners who would be willing to volunteer his/her fleet for the study.
“We are actively looking for participants for the study, and we’ve talked to CTA and they are very willing to help,” said Dr. Xavier Cheng, strategic partnerships officer at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. “The key issue here is we want a homogenous population of truck drivers. We don’t want individual volunteers coming up because they feel like they have sleep apnea because they will bias the study, and we also don’t want truck drivers volunteering who know they don’t have sleep apnea coming up because they too will bias the study. Essentially we would like to test a whole fleet of truck drivers.”
Dr. Cheng added that the way drivers will be tested for the study won’t be in a sleep laboratory overnight. Instead, drivers will use a device they can take with them at home or on the road.
“With the nature of the device we can test the whole fleet at once,” he said. “There will be no down time for the truck drivers. It’s a very convenient process.”
“We want to assure drivers that the study really is in their interest,” added Dr. Fernie. “Because if they do have sleep apnea, it’s a good idea to know it and to treat it.”
There is no firm date yet on when the study is to officially begin because it is still in the fundraising stage, but the institute hopes it can kick off in the fall.
“We’ve now raised $800,000 of the $1.2 million we need to run the study,” said Dr. Fernie. “And now that we’ve raised this much we are confidently going ahead and planning to start the study, if possible, in September.”