Engineers and conductors with two Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) commuter railroads must undergo testing for sleep apnea, a dangerous sleep disorder that can contribute to an increased risk for high blood pressure, heart attack and heart disease, and can result in daytime fatigue and an inability to focus.

New York rail cars

Sleep Apnea and Impaired Driving

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in April that all engineers and conductors on the MTA’s Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road must be tested for sleep apnea. Those who test positive must undergo treatment.

According to an article in The New York Times, the policy is a response to the deadly 2013 derailment caused by a Metro-North engineer who dozed off at the helm of his commuter train; four people were killed, dozens were injured, and the engineer was later found to have undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The past few years have seen additional high-profile commuter and commercial vehicle accidents in which the drivers responsible have fallen asleep at the wheel.

OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea, and it is characterized by episodes in which breathing stops multiple times during sleep. This prevents natural, restful sleep, which progressively leads to daytime drowsiness, an inability to focus, and impaired responsiveness, all of which endanger the sufferer and others when he or she is operating a vehicle.

Sleep Apnea Testing in the News

The risks of sleep apnea have become a major concern in the commuter transit and commercial transportation industries in recent years. The new MTA policy comes after a year-long pilot program that, according to a Sleep Review report on the matter, saw 438 Metro-North engineers and engineer trainees tested for obstructive sleep apnea; an undisclosed number was prescribed treatment with a CPAP device or an oral appliance.

On a national level, commercial pilots licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration are already required to undergo sleep apnea testing and, if necessary, treatment. A proposed federal rule currently in the comment stage and backed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration would require bus operators, railway workers and commercial truck drivers to be tested for OSA.

The risks are real. As we discussed in a recent blog post, truck drivers with untreated sleep apnea are five times more likely to be involved in an otherwise preventable accident, according to the findings of a new study.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

There are many sleep apnea treatment choices available, and they are not limited to the longtime standard, CPAP. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, and CPAP therapy consists of a continuous airflow delivered through a mask connected to an oxygen circulator.

Some patients, however, find CPAP uncomfortable and discontinue its use before treatment can be effective. One successful alternative is an oral appliance, which is custom made to fit your unique bite and hold your jaw in its proper resting position during sleep to maintain an open air passage.

An experienced sleep dentist at New Jersey’s River Edge Dental can help you restore restful sleep and eliminate the loud, chronic snoring that often accompanies sleep apnea. Please call (201) 343-4044 to schedule your appointment.