Potential federal sleep apnea testing regulations for truck drivers, railroad operators and bus drivers have stirred substantial debate since they were proposed just over a month ago, but one fact is often overlooked amid public comment and commercial-transport industry discussions: When it comes to treating sleep apnea, CPAP is not the only option.

man sleeping in his car on the side of the road

Sleep Apnea and CPAP

Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition in which a person’s breathing stops multiple times during sleep. Its most obvious symptom is recurring snoring, but it can also lead to chronic daytime fatigue and drowsiness, and difficulty focusing.

CPAP has long been the standard for treating sleep apnea. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, and CPAP therapy consists of wearing a mask connected to an air circulator during sleep; this device provides an ongoing airflow and prevents breathing interruptions.

CPAP machines are favored by regulatory authorities over other treatments because the devices can transmit data to care providers and monitor compliance. Though CPAP is effective when used regularly, compliance is an issue for many sleep apnea sufferers.

Maintaining CPAP Treatment

A recent article in the trucking industry magazine Fleet Owner regarding sleep apnea testing asked, “Do your drivers hate their PAP machines?” The answer, in many cases, is “yes.”

Under current guidelines, if a commercial vehicle driver has been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form of sleep apnea, he or she must maintain a rate of 70 percent compliance with treatment, which is most often the use of a CPAP device that records the wearer’s use. Treatment, according to the article, requires at least four hours of CPAP use per night; the article goes on to describe how many truck drivers set alarms for the minimum required time, then wake up, remove the CPAP mask, and try to go back to sleep without it.

A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (part of the National Institutes of Health) called CPAP compliance “a significant problem” and found that only about half of the study participants continued CPAP use long term. Other studies have shown that up to 80 percent of those prescribed CPAP therapy don’t adhere to long-term treatment.

Comfortable Sleep Apnea Treatment

According to research into CPAP compliance rates among those diagnosed with OSA published in 2002 in Chest, the official publication of the American College of Chest Physicians, “CPAP therapy is often difficult to tolerate and patients frequently stop using it because of discomfort. The nasal mask interface may cause pressure sores, persistent air leakage, claustrophobia, nasal congestion, and other side effects that may lead to suboptimal compliance.”

When the findings of that study were published, there were few alternatives to CPAP. Today, there are additional sleep apnea treatment options. One popular and effective choice for many sleep apnea sufferers is oral appliance therapy.

Sleep apnea oral appliances are similar to sports mouthguards, but they are custom made to fit your unique bite. These devices fit comfortably and snugly over your teeth, and they are designed to hold the jaw in proper alignment and promote an open air passage during sleep.

Sleep dentist Dr. Kevin Berry has extensive success helping those with sleep apnea (and their sleep partners) restore healthy, restful sleep. If you or a loved one is afflicted by chronic snoring or other sleep apnea symptoms, please call the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado at (303) 691-0267 to schedule your appointment.