The Surprising Cost of Snoring

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition that causes snoring and pauses in breathing during sleep, which disrupt sleep and trigger daytime drowsiness and lapses in attention, as well as a range of other health problems.
  • Erin O’Donnell

Ensuring employees get restful slumber may bring big benefits to companies. That’s the takeaway from new research on truck drivers with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This condition causes snoring and pauses in breathing during sleep, which disrupt sleep and trigger daytime drowsiness and lapses in attention, as well as a range of other health problems.

Previous studies show that obesity increases OSA risk, so Schneider National, a trucking company in Green Bay, Wis., chose to screen its overweight drivers for OSA. If drivers were diagnosed with sleep apnea, the company required them to seek treatment—which often involves wearing a mask-like device at night to keep a person’s airway open while sleeping—to remain employed.

Researchers from institutions including Harvard Medical School tracked nine years of data on the drivers with OSA. “We found that those who were not compliant with treatment had a 400-percent increased risk of serious, preventable truck crashes compared with those who were compliant with treatment,” says study co-author Charles Czeisler, MD, chief of the division of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and professor at Harvard Medical School. He and his colleagues also analyzed healthcare costs among compliant drivers and found that their costs went down by $6,000 per year. So stamping out snoring could boost the bottom line as well as save commuting employees’ lives. 

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