Categorized | Sleep Apnea, Uncategorized

Air Traffic Controllers May Have Sleep Apnea

sleeping air traffic control

air traffic worker sleeping

Within the past few weeks, there has been an awful lot of news about the air traffic controllers in the United States falling asleep while working.  This has gotten to the point where President Obama is demanding that these workers who serve the general public in a critical way need to be held responsible immediately.  The most recent air controller has been suspended from work while an investigation begins.

What might be the cause of these employees falling asleep on the job?  They are all initially suspected of having sleep apnea.  Sleep Apnea is a sleeping disorder and is widespread throughout not only the United States, but the rest of the world.  The most common symptom that sleep apnea patients present in their daily lives is chronic fatigue or sleepiness.  The reason for this is simple: they are not getting a good nights sleep because their airway is being obstructed which causes them to constantly arouse and wake up over and over again all night long.

Sleep Apnea would make the most common sense for the air traffic controllers, as all of them have passed several drug tests, and have been through a very rigorous screening process prior to being hired into their important safety positions.  The physical dilemma that an undiagnosed sleep apnea patient has is they can’t understand why they are so sleepy all day long.  Often the sleepiness goes on for years before a proper diagnosis is made, and during that time the patients find creative ways to minimize the effects the symptoms have on their daily life.  For example, many sleep apnea patients who are sleepy all day long compensate by drinking enormous amounts of caffeine to stay away on the job.  It is not common for workers with sleep apnea to drink 10-15 cups of coffee per day just to keep from falling asleep while working.

There is some very positive news if the air traffic controllers do have sleep apnea, it can be fixed quickly and easily.  First the air controllers would need to be tested with a sleep study to make the diagnosis.  That can take anywhere from one to two week to complete.  Next, there are several treatment options that can be chosen which range from sleeping in a different body position, to CPAP therapy which involves wearing a mask to sleep each night, or even oral surgery.  It is not the end of the world if you have sleep apnea, so it should not cost anyone their job if they diagnose and treat it properly.

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