On this week’s episode of Taking the Hire Road, Jeremy Reymer, founder of DriverReach, is joined by Dr. Abhinav Singh, a board-certified physician with decades of experience in the field of sleep medicine.
When trying to impress upon his patients the importance of proper sleep hygiene, Singh often found himself recommending literature written by others. One day, a patient asked him why he had yet to write a book on the subject.
Thus was the genesis of “Sleep to Heal: 7 Simple Steps to Better Health,” a book in which Singh draws upon illustrative and instructive examples from his storied career in medicine.
Given that the average life expectancy of a CDL driver is a mere 61 years, Singh’s message is all the more relevant to truckers.
“I look at sleep as the chassis of a truck on which the entire structure of your health is built,” he says. Indeed, Singh’s writing is peppered with colorful analogies that drive home the importance of sleep.
In one of the most descriptive ones, he likens a full eight hours of sleep to an elevator proceeding upward. “The longer you sleep, the further you go up, getting deeper and more restorative sleep until you reach the penthouse. And who doesn’t like being in a penthouse?”
In the first few hours of sleep, your body fights infections and repairs muscle tissue, among other processes. This task is a messy affair, leaving behind debris like histamines from the biological battles.
The second half of a good night’s rest, then, is when the body begins to clear out the remnants of earlier battles, which can be harmful if left unchecked. But this cleanup can be arrested by disturbances to sleep, even those that are seemingly normal.
“Snoring is like potholes on a road,” Singh explains. “Are they common? Yes. But while every pothole doesn’t break your truck, certain potholes are worse than others. As the snoring gets worse, the impact to the car hitting them is higher.”
Snoring is caused by vibrations at the back of one’s throat, each of which jolts the sleeper’s body with a shock of adrenaline that interrupts the sleep cycle. And, like hitting potholes repeatedly, it matters little whether the truck is maintained regularly — eventually, parts start to break down as the chassis is continually rocked.
Initially, the symptoms of sleep apnea do not seem severe: “dry mouth, headaches, frequent bathroom breaks, fatigue, judgment errors.” But as a person is deprived of sleep over time, it begins to take a major toll. “Over the next decade, apnea’s effects become heart attacks, strokes, rising blood pressure … the list goes on.”
Given the severity of these later symptoms, it is alarming that roughly 1 in 3 people do not get enough sleep, while nearly 20% of people suffer from sleep apnea. Of those 20% who have apnea, 80% are undiagnosed.
The risk factors are higher in truckers, who tend to be older males with a sedentary lifestyle. “There is almost a 300% higher risk of accidents on the road if you have untreated sleep apnea,” making it all the more important for drivers to check in regularly with a physician.
Early in his career, Singh encountered a lot of pushback from truckers who would wind up in his office. When he asked why these patients came to him, “the standard response would be, ‘I don’t know why I’m here.’” Patients would often shift the blame to others like their duty examiners or federal regulators.
Happily, in recent years, the benefits of sleep medicine have spread like wildfire among truckers via word of mouth. After a mere 60 days of treatment, symptoms rapidly begin to alleviate, to which Singh has only one question:
“Doesn’t it feel like you’ve been driving with the hand brakes up all the time, and now someone has finally lowered them?”
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