Is Sleep Apnea Making You Tired At Work?
Many people suffer with chronic long-term sleep disorders that could affect their work and career but they may not even know. Specialists claim that there are more than 80 different types of sleep disorder, from the better-known insomnia and narcolepsy disorders to the lesser-known disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea or OSA.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnoea affects around 5% of the population, usually males above the age of 40. During the night, an individual with OSA will stop breathing on a regular basis (sometimes more than 30 times per hour) until the brain briefly awakens the person, interrupting their deep sleep to allow breathing to start again. The reason this happens is because muscles and soft tissue in the throat and tongue collapse during sleep, blocking the airways.
OSA is commonly treated using a “continuous positive air pressure” or CPAP machine during the night. This is a mask that forces air into your airways, preventing them from collapsing and becoming blocked, which allows a full sleep cycle to take place. Other treatments are available, such as sleep apnea patches, which stimulate nerves in the throat to keep the airways open.
How Does OSA Affect You?
The main symptoms of OSA are daytime sleepiness and loud, regular snoring. In more severe cases or when left untreated it can also lead to reduced concentration, memory loss and even depression. There is also an increased risk of having motor vehicle accidents due to the effects of OSA and therefore it is particularly important for drivers to be aware of their condition. Additionally, those who operate heavy machinery should also be particularly careful.
OSA And The Workplace
Due to the daytime sleepiness and reduced concentration and stamina associated with OSA, individuals can begin to have problems at work and their job performance may be affected. Furthermore, people with OSA are also more likely to take time off work and the time they are absent is likely to be longer than average. They are also more likely to suffer from other physical or mental health problems and retire earlier than average.
Occasionally, these problems are long-term and could have a great enough impact on their job performance that people with OSA are able to register as having a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act, which can protect individuals from unfair dismissal at work or from not being considered for employment.
Advice For Working With OSA
There are a number of simple steps that can be carried out in the office to help make working with OSA easier and to increase alertness. These include taking more frequent breaks, having flexible working times, an increase in natural light in the office and clearing away clutter to prevent distractions.
Since OSA affects the ability of individuals to drive and operate heavy machinery safely, anyone who has a job involving either of these should be transferred to an office job if possible. If driving is necessary then by law you must inform the DVLA of the condition before you continue driving to avoid large fines and prosecution if you are involved in an accident.
Although the effects of OSA can cause difficulty at work, treatment and taking a number of simple steps can improve your daytime sleepiness and prevent your job performance and career being affected. Sleep apnea can be effectively treated with masks and neurostimulation devices that help to maintain airflow.
Eve Hargreaves is a sleep specialist who helps people to overcome problems with snoring, sleep apnea, OSA and insomnia. Follow or tweet her @evehsleep.