Apnea Awakenings

April 1, 2012

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Marten Transport drivers reap benefits after fleet addresses sleepiness issue

I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?
Ernest Hemingway

By Derek Hinton and Brad Bentley

That’s all well and good for an author, but the life of a truck driver going to sleep while at the wheel may fall apart too. And sleep apnea is a common cause of daytime sleepiness.  Marten Transport out of Mondovi, Wisconsin decided to address the issue.

Sleep Apnea is a condition where, during sleep, a narrowing or closure of the upper airway causes repeated sleep disturbances leading to poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness. Since excessive sleepiness can be a consequence of sleeping disturbances, drivers with sleep apnea have compromised driving performance leading to increases in the risks of crashes.

In fact, according to the Divided Attention Driving Task, a research test designed to mimic driving performance, individuals with sleep apnea perform, on average, as poorly as individuals whose levels of blood alcohol concentration exceed the legal limit.

One of the interesting things about sleep apnea is that it’s extremely difficult to self-diagnose. For one, you don’t fully wake up in the night to remember, but also, studies have found that a driver self-reporting they are sleepy in the day is not a reliable predictor of whether they have apnea. But almost every objective test shows a clear relationship between performance and the severity of sleep apnea.

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So, if sleep apnea is akin to driving intoxicated and leads to increased risk of crashes—but is difficult for a driver to self-diagnose, what can be done?

Tim Norlin, Director of Recruiting for Marten Transport, said the company wanted to be progressive in discovering and treating the condition throughout the fleet. In the fall of 2010, Marten Transport implemented sleep apnea screenings to drivers who attended orientation in Tucker, Georgia and Indianapolis, Indiana.  Norlin says the results have been tremendous, and RPM for Truckers reached out to some Marten Transport drivers to get their opinion.

We talked to Robin Schramm, a driver of 10 years who was tested two months ago. Robin said “I got tested; they said I had apnea and I thought it was a hoax. I let them know I wasn’t sleepy in the day and suspected this was something new from the DOT to further regulate me.”  Two months later, Robin has a different take. “Last time I was in, I apologized. I cannot describe how much better I feel. The alarm goes off and I’m ready to go—at night, I’m not tired like I was before. I really can’t believe the change.”

Lori Ott, Safety Manager for Marten Transport, says the benefits are obvious.

“We want safe drivers on the road, and are helping them get adequate rest,” Ott stated. Another Marten driver said that “if I was told I could be let off of the program I would stay on it. I’ve never slept so well in years. I love it.” The apnea testing and program is not just for new hires—current Marten drivers can elect to be screened — and there is no out-of-pocket expense for the driver.

Robin said “I’ve driven for 10 years and Marten has treated me the best. Other companies might just tell me to hit the road with my condition, but they’ve provided this free benefit and—I’ve never felt so good.”

Founded in 1946, Marten Transport has reached its high level of success by focusing on providing excellent career opportunities for professional drivers.  As one of today’s leading national protective service transportation companies, Marten Transport is able to offer company drivers excellent opportunities for growth and stability.

If you’re interested in becoming part of a team that is dedicated to excellence – if you want the best that professional driving has to offer, call 800-395-3331 or log onto www.drive4marten.com today .