Sleep Apnea: Dangerous and Under-Diagnosed

Dangers of Sleep ApneaLast year, a New York Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx, killing four people. The engineer of the train, William Rockefeller, has since been found to have sleep apnea. The National Transportation Safety Board classified William Rockefeller as obese at 5’11” and over 260 pounds. He reported to the NTSB that he felt “dazed” before the train approached the curve of tracks at 82 mph. Afterward, his medical examination revealed that he was unknowingly waking about 65 times an hour while sleeping. Though no cause for the derailment has been established, many point the finger at Rockefeller’s sleep disorder.

Now, the commuter railroad is setting about establishing a screening process for sleep apnea. The program, which is still being worked out with unions, would be for ‘all employees in any safety-sensitive positions.’

Sleep apnea is an often-undiagnosed disorder; its sufferers rest poorly at night because their airway relaxes or collapses, blocking air and causing breathing to stop. The person will wake abruptly as a subconscious safety measure. This cycle can happen hundreds of times each night.

What are common markers of sleep apnea? Many of those diagnosed with apnea are are overweight, snore, or have a large neck size (more than 17 inches for men). They also have a tendency to “doze off” during the day.

Currently, the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is CPAP, a machine that uses a mask and hose to push a steady flow of air into a person’s airway while they sleep. Those who use CPAP often report quick and substantial improvement in the way they sleep, which can effect positive changes in mood, restfulness, productivity, and even weight.

If you suspect you or someone you love may have sleep apnea, see your health care provider right away.  It’s never too soon to get a good night’s sleep. 

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